November 06, 1995 12:00 PM

Various Artists

During the golden age of American popular song, the guy born Israel Baline was the best all-around composer, and no arguing, please. Not the greatest lyricist perhaps, but as a melodist, the staggeringly versatile Berlin had no equal. Consider “What’ll I Do,” “Always,” “White Christmas,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade,” “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and many of his other hits. But with all due respect to the man Richard Rodgers once called America’s folk-song writer, there’s a good reason that some of Irving Berlin is unsung. It’s un-good, or at least uninspired. This collection of obscure tunes—while generally adroitly arranged and charmingly performed, particularly by vocalists Liz Callaway and Shauna Hicks—does nothing so much as remind one of better Berlin. For instance, “It’s a Lovely Day for a Walk” calls up thoughts of “It’s a Lovely Day Today.” “Long as I Can Take You Home” could be a rethinking of “Change Partners.” But “Nothing More to Say,” which was written for the un-produced musical Stars on My Shoulders, is a sweet, wistful number, and “Take Me with You, Soldier Boy” is a buried treasure of a ballad: “I know there’s a job to do/but somehow you will find/a soldier does a better job/with a girl on his mind.” Almost everything else in this two-CD set is strictly of curio value. Of course for perfervid fans of Irving Berlin, that may be value enough. (Varèse Sarabande)

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