CD Review: Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer - Two Of A Kind

Two giants from different eras make magic with a big assist from Billy May
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In the early 1960s, Bobby Darin's manager Steve Blauner had a brainstorm: he wanted Darin to cut an album with famed lyricist/singer/composer Johnny Mercer with arrangements by Billy May. Darin was 24 at the time and Mercer was 51 and the record was a major nod to the Tin Pan Alley songs of old. While this might seem a recipe for disaster, quite the opposite happened.

The pair had immediate chemistry and a playful camaraderie that is evident throughout. Add in the hard swinging sounds from May, who had worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, and the resulting album, Two Of A Kind, is a joyous listen from an era long past. The album is now rereleased with seven bonus tracks, including two that did not make the original album.

The album opens with the title track. Well, at least 50 seconds of it. The duo offers a tongue in cheek, playful vocal before deciding to focus on the song "Indiana." This sense of humor is prevalent throughout the album and makes for an enjoyable listen. On "Indiana," May delivers a killer, up-tempo arrangement and the duo goes into an extended scat session to end the song. One can sense the joy these two greats had performing together and the track is pure bliss.

Mercer's "Bob White" is revisited here, this time with a bouncy arrangement and punchy horns while "Ace In The Hole" recalls the Tin Pan Alley songs that could be sung in an old western saloon. "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll" lives up to its humorous name, with silly banter from both singer as they interject their brand of humor into the other's verses while the medley of "Paddlin' Madelin' Home" and "Row Row Row" finds Darin doing a Louis Armstrong impression (One of several different impressions he does on the album). The songs, while not always obvious warhorses, are all great, as are the performances and all are done with a wink and a nod, with fun being the order of the day.

"Who Takes Care Of The Caretaker's Daughter" has both singers on the verge of laughter throughout with its many double entendres. Darin does an amusing Elvis Presley impression here that fits the mood of the record. The album ends with a proper version of "Two Of A Kind," a song that showcases Darin's gifts as a melodic songwriter and Mercer's lyrical prowess. It bookends a spectacular ride through a lot of great music.

The CD features seven bonus cuts, including two "Cecelia" and "Lily Of Laguna," that did not make the original album and alternate takes of five songs that did. These tracks are worth a listen as they are not carbon copies of the released versions.

Nearly 60 years on, Blauner's idea to put these giants of their eras in a studio together seems like such an obvious choice. With two singers on top of their game, who are enjoying every second of the proceedings and fantastic arrangements, Two Of A Kind is a must own for fans who like their music swinging and fun.