February 16, 1987 12:00 PM

Various artists

Few fans of American popular music would pass up a chance to hear a Johnny Mercer song under just about any circumstances, and this anthology album includes some exceptional performances. It includes a couple of dismal tracks too. Most insulting is female impersonator Jim Bailey’s imitation of Judy Garland as she might have sung the Mercer-Harold Arlen tune Out of This World. Producer Frank Fiore demonstrates a peculiar lack of respect for Mercer—not to mention Garland—by including something that’s not even a good impression. There’s also an earnest vocal on the lovely Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael song How Little We Know by New York entertainment lawyer Mark Sendroff. While he is a not-too-embarrassing amateur singer, he hardly belongs in the company of such performers as Rosemary Clooney and Anita O’Day. There are also songs by two of pop music’s most sadly misused vocalists, Mimi Hines and Fran Jeffries. Hines, better known for her overbite than her voice, does a touching version of My Shining Hour (another Mercer-Arlen collaboration). Jeffries sings It Had Better Be Tonight. Ironically it was her performance of that tune in The Pink Panther that marked her turning point from a promising young jazz-pop singer to a routine semi-starlet who also sang. On this rendition she’s backed by Kenny Werner and sounds terrific. So does New York cabaret singer Nancy La Mott, whose You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, backed by trumpet player Glenn Drewes, adds some gentle nuance to an often tossed-off tune. Kaye Ballard, Eydie Gorme and Jennifer Holliday are also heard in this collection. Nobody has ever sung Mercer songs better than he did of course. His old albums are worth searching out, as is Susannah McCorkle’s 1981 LP of Mercer material. (Painted Smiles)

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