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Piano Man Connick Rolls Dice for Another Winner : *** HARRY CONNICK JR. “Blue Light, Red Light” <i> Columbia</i>

Harry Connick sure can’t be accused of being overly cautious. After a Grammy-winning year that most performers would kill for, he’s taken the risky path of releasing an album of 12 new, all-original tunes (due in stores Sept. 24). To compound the gamble, he’s arranged and orchestrated the charts for the accompanying 17-piece Harry Connick Jr. Orchestra.

Amazingly, he brings it off, with a startlingly versatile, hard-swinging performance that is far and away his most impressive recorded outing.

The songs (some of which were co-written with Ramsey McLean) are in determinedly mainstream style. Ballads like “Jill” and the lovely “Sonny Cried,” the sprightly, New Orleans-jazz-based “With Imagination,” the swing-styled “If I Could Give You More” and the romping, up-tempo “Just Kiss Me,” like almost everything else on the album, could have been written decades ago.

But there’s no questioning the contemporary craft that went into them. And several of the pieces--"He Is . . . They Are,” “It’s Time” and “Blue Light, Red Light” in particular--persuasively combine attractive melodies with pointedly effective, multilevel lyrics.

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Connick’s orchestrations are equally striking. In their better moments, the charts for “Last Pay Day” and “It’s Time” have the touch and the feel of Ellington.

Others--"She Belongs to Me,” “You Didn’t Know Me When” and “A Blessing and a Curse” among them--demonstrate his skill with straight-ahead swing.

Caught up in the midst of this onslaught of creative activity, Connick’s voice sometimes seems a bit underplayed--as though the energies expended on songwriting and arranging have left too little time for his vocals. But that’s a minor carp for an album that convincingly identifies Connick as one of the major entertainment talents of the ‘90s.


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