Restrictive 'Stardust' Still Sparkles : VARIOUS ARTISTS "Stardust: Capitol Sings Hoagy Carmichael" Capitol ***

The good news in the latest collection of albums in the "Capitol Sings" series, which showcases the works of noteworthy songwriters from the pre-rock era, is that the releases salute such memorable figures as Carmichael and Harold Arlen.

The problem continues to be that the series forces us to settle for versions that were recorded for Capitol, which means we often do not get the definitive versions of the songs.

In "Stardust," for instance, Carmichael, the composer and sometimes lyricist who has been called the most quintessentially American songwriter, is well served by Nat King Cole on the title tune (which was co-written by lyricist Mitchell Parish), Mel Torme on "Heart and Soul" (lyrics by Frank Loesser), Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong on "Lazy River" (co-written by Sidney Arodin) and Chet Baker on "I Get Along Without You Very Well."

But it seems to be settling for second best (or less) when you hear Dean Martin (instead of Bing Crosby) on "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" (lyrics by Johnny Mercer), Lou Rawls (instead of Ray Charles or Willie Nelson) on "Georgia on My Mind" (lyrics by Stuart Gorrell) and Ed Townsend on "Rockin' Chair."

Highlights of the Arlen package, which gets the same three-star rating, include Johnny Mercer's version of "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" (lyrics by Mercer), Peggy Lee's "Come Rain or Shine" (also lyrics by Mercer) and the Nat King Cole Trio's previously unreleased "It's Only a Paper Moon" (lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Billy Rose).

The series would also be greatly improved by liner notes, giving listeners both information about the songwriters and an analysis of their work. Other writers saluted in latest installments in the series: Sammy Cahn, Jimmy McHugh, Frank Loesser and Harry Warren.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).

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