POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Feinstein Taps Into Songs With Telling Versatility

Michael Feinstein's sometimes quixotic campaign to honor the Great American Song was in full swing at the Greek Theatre Friday night.

"Quixotic" because Feinstein, for all his growing popularity, still hasn't tapped into the younger audience the way Tony Bennett has in recent years. And "swing" because the accompaniment was provided by Bill Elliott--another artist captivated by a past era--and his Swing Orchestra.

The Feinstein-Elliott blend turned out to be a good mix. Both are enormously respectful of the songs of the pre-World War II period, and both view the music, correctly, as a rich and fertile treasure.

But Feinstein is not a nostalgia act. Despite his encyclopedic familiarity with Irving Berlin and, especially, the Gershwins, a large part of his appeal, particularly apparent in his solo numbers for voice and piano, is his versatility with a wide range of material. Always capable of coming up with an obscure humorous ditty--"In Bermuda in Sweet Onion Time" was one--he balanced his entertaining between-song patter with a gorgeous collection of Harry Warren love songs ("You're My Everything," "September Song," "The More I See You," etc.), a few pieces from his "Forever" album and some flag-wavers with the Elliott Orchestra.

Perhaps predictably, Feinstein peaked in a climactic Gershwin medley: "Love Is Sweeping the Country," "Embraceable You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and the tune that has become a virtual signature number, "S'Wonderful."

The Elliott Orchestra opened the evening with a hard-driving set that made a persuasive argument for the bandleader's assertion that swing music is alive and well. Attractive as the new arrangements were, however, the group's most telling numbers were a couple of songs in which a four-voice ensemble, Vocalworks, and singer Amy Weston, sounding strikingly like her mother, Jo Stafford, conjured up the sound and the substance of the '40s.

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