Dory Previn, nee Langdon, who died just last year, may be best known to rock fans for her seven amazing confessional solo albums from the ‘70s that betrayed a wit, charm, and sophistication that invited comparisons to such songwriters as Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell and Harry Nilsson. However, during the ‘60s, Dory had been nominated for three Oscars for songs created for movies, two of them co-written by her husband, André. Composer and pianist André went on to achieve international fame as a classical music conductor, but he and Dory wrote some wonderful music together.
Singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, a friend of André’s, convinced André that they should collaborate on an album of André’s music. Ten of the dozen songs they selected were co-written by Dory. These may not be Dory’s best songs. They were chosen because of what the material represented about André’s talents. The sophisticated jazz-pop tunes deserve attention. Feinstein’s voice and playing are impeccable, performed in a style located somewhere between show tunes and standards. André’s chic compositions bleed class. These renditions evoke the atmosphere of stylish ‘60s nightclubs with a refined clientele; women in sleeveless dresses, men in tailored sport coats. While most of the songs were written for movies, they were also covered by such singers like Frank Sinatra and Doris Day.
Feinstein and André are fine performers, but Dory is the real star here. Her lyrics demand attention, not only because they are somewhat manic in their hyperbolic intensity (i.e., “Move over sun, and give me some sky“) but because of their combination of vulnerability, humor and intellect. Dory doesn’t deliver punchy one-liners. She writes words that build on each other to reveal the complex combination of how we think and feel. Consider the Oscar nominated titled song “(You’ve Had A) Change of Heart.” The language languidly describes the end of romance. It’s heartbreaking, (“The more I reveal / The less you conceal / You’ve had a change of heart”), but the pain comes across slowly. Each trope suggests more and more.
Dory sees the world through rose colored glasses, but she can’t help but take them off. “Nothing is duller than pink,” she wrote in “The Easy Way”, a song originally written for the film Valley of the Dolls, but not featured on the soundtrack. Doing things the difficult way is the only way to live. She understands that lovers lie to each other, but that does not mean love is not real. There is no pleasure without pain. She would not want it any other way.
In many ways, Dory had a hard life. But one does not need to know her biography to enjoy her droll and clever sensibility. Feinstein and André are the main event here, responsible for the disc’s existence. Listen to them weave the piano lines together. Hear Feinstein vocalize to the changing rhythms and tempos. The songs never stay in one place for long. And let Dory’s words enfold you in their arms. They tug at your heart. Even when Dory’s not at her best, she always has something worth saying.