Before there was Michael Bublé, there was Harry Connick Jr.: a straight-talking, good-looking, smartly dressed pop-jazz crooner refashioning old music for young people. (Old people tuned in anyway.)
Yet while Bublé has used his success singing standards as leverage to do more of his own material -- April's "To Be Loved" led with the slyly acerbic "It's a Beautiful Day" -- Connick largely has stayed away from songwriting of late.
His last full set of original tunes came out in 1997, and since then he's done TV, movies and Broadway, released several albums of instrumental piano music and made covers records such as "Songs I Heard" and "Your Songs." Last month he schooled some youngsters on "American Idol," which has reportedly expressed interest in hiring the singer as a judge for its next season.
Having evidently stockpiled some inspiration, Connick returns to songwriting on "Every Man Should Know," a 12-track set he describes in the liner notes as nothing less than a "musical trip down a winding back road of my desire," he writes. "No rules, no limits. I wrote what I liked, I played what I felt and I sang what I saw."
You're prepared, then, for music full of character, energy, personality -- certainly something that deepens or complicates our understanding of who Connick is. No dice: Overloaded with dreary soft-pop ballads and lyrics that cleave to all-purpose generalities -- "You can see right through me / You always get right to me" -- "Every Man Should Know" hardly lives up to its billing; it tells us far less about Connick than do his renditions of "It Had to Be You" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." And unlike Bublé's stuff, Connick's music has none of the attitude the singer often summons outside the studio.
There's a bit of Connick's stated no-limits policy in his eclectic approach to genre, which when he's not doing those ballads drives him to dip into lightweight funk, bossa nova, even the zydeco of his native New Orleans. "Friend (Goin' Home)" has some lively gospel singing, while "Come See About Me," with Paul Franklin's tasty pedal steel, impressively synthesizes several strands of American roots music.
But what are we to do with a song that remembers a mother's beloved bedtime stories as "Sometimes they were happy / Sometimes they were sad"? And how to reconcile the bland hotel-bar setting of "Being Alone" with the juicy arrangements Connick devised for "Blue Light, Red Light," his finest album of originals?
Forget every man; Connick should know he can do better.
Harry Connick Jr.
'Every Man Should Know'
1 1/2 stars