Monica Mancini proves her musical pedigree at the Montreux Jazz Festival
It isn’t often that I’m tempted to call an album “flawless”. There is usually a track or two that misses the mark, doesn’t connect with the whole, has a slight hint of beating the deadline about it – good enough but not quite in the zone. But Monica Mancini’s I’ve Loved These Days has such a calm sense of completeness about it that I’ve found myself staring at the Bose in astonishment. During the first listen, round about an absorbing reinvention of “How Can I Be Sure” – a number I’ve only ever associated with Dusty Springfield, despite David Cassidy’s best efforts – I actually caught myself thinking, “They really don’t make records like this any more.”
And to be honest, in the best possible way, there is a strong retro feel about the whole thing, not least because Mancini’s phrasing and diction are so effortlessly cool. You don’t miss a single lyric – and how often does that happen these days? Every word is considered, explored and offered up with an honesty that brings to mind female pop singers of the highest calibre: Karen Carpenter or Dionne Warwick at their instinctive best.
The choice of songs also adds to the sense of a time slip. Mancini has cherry-picked a 1960s playlist of rare quality – and in many cases enlisted the help of their originators: Jackson Browne plays guitar and sings backing vocals on “These Days”; Stevie Wonder’s unmistakable harmonica burnishes “Blame it on the Sun”; and Brian Wilson – vocally ageless – features on an intriguingly pared-down “God Only Knows”, giving Mancini the chance to show her mettle against a taste of those legendary Beach Boy harmonies.
These collaborations are testament to Mancini’s musical pedigree, as the daughter of Henry Mancini, the composer behind some of the most iconic film soundtracks of the 20th century. Many of the songwriters she honours here were her father’s peers and clearly exerted a profound influence on her own musical development. Indeed, she calls them her “musical heroes” and offers I’ve Loved These Days as a discovery of what their songs continue to reveal. In that sense, the album makes an interesting comparison with Barb Jungr’s The Men I Love. They both raise a musical toast to Paul Simon, for example: Jungr with “My Little Town” and Mancini with “American Tune”.
Although this album isn’t exclusively American in content – there is a poignant take on the Lennon/McCartney number “I’ll Follow the Sun” – an undercurrent of oblique commentary on the modern emotional landscape of her homeland occasionally ripples to the surface, particularly in the compassion of the Fran Landesman classic “Ballad of the Sad Young Men”, Billy Joel’s “I’ve Loved These Days”, and the flute-dusted beauty of Janice Ian’s “Joy”.
The arrangements are spare, acoustic and almost regal in their simplicity. Mancini clearly didn’t want to simply do an all-purpose album of cover versions. Instead, these are gleaming reinterpretations in which the lyrics take centre stage. Producer Phil Ramone – who had a hand in the original versions of many of these songs – has brought all his skill to the mixing desk, giving Mancini’s fluent, elegant vocal line all the air and space it needs to soar above the tasteful, sympathetic arrangements of Jorge Calandrelli. “I’ve Loved These Days” is a breath of fresh air in a musical climate that is so often hell-bent on over embellishment and extravagance. Perfect.