The first re-release…

…of Johnny Mathis’ heretofore “lost” Mercury Records recordings was released this week — the dual-CD compilation Tender Is The Night/Wonderful World of Make-Believe.

After carpet bombing the charts with dozens of hit singles and LPs via Columbia Records in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Johnny took a ~3 year flyer with Mercury Records in 1963 that yielded 10 interesting albums.

Not truly “lost”…

…but other than a Christmas LP, the Mercury recordings never made the CD release scene … that is until this week.

Sony and Columbia are cooperating to allow Real Gone Music to remaster Johnny’s Mercury years LPs as double album re-releases.

First up is this very nice Broadway and Hollywood themed double album — Tender Is The Night/Wonderful World of Make-Believe.

Johnny freely admits…

…in a liner notes interview with James Ritz that there were some consistency issues with his output during the Mercury years; actually what Mathis said was that some of his output was “absolutely horrible”.

That may be true or it may be the heightened expectations of a perfectionist performer. I can’t attest to the other eight Mercury albums but I can tell you that what Johnny trots out with this first Mercury re-release are solid songs and quality material that Real Gone Music has done an excellent job rendering.

I consider myself a big Johnny Mathis fan, and though I found no issues with consistency or quality, Tender/Wonderful is not all unicorns and rainbows … there are some numbers in here that just don’t quite strike a chord with me from a style standpoint. That said, there are more than enough excellent songs — smooth yet precise and delivered in that distinctive Mathis intonation — that make this dual CD release a gotta have for the JM fan.

Tender is the Night…

… reunited Mathis with the renown arranger Don Costa, whom Johnny had been working with at Columbia. They picked up right where they had left off with a dozen dramatic and beautifully charted songs. Again the stage/screen theme is prevalent here with ten of the numbers coming from Broadway or Hollywood.

My favorites from the bunch start with the title track — “Tender is the Night”. Though Tony Bennett made huge hay with this song from the film by the same name, Mathis and Costa really amp up the film score feel and it works to perfection on this number.

Right into track two and the Mercer/Raksin classic “Laura” … another song that lays beautifully for JM’s vocal dexterity, lilting high tones and Costa’s dramatic arrangements. This may be the best song on the dual LP.

Another film number — “April Love” — also lays well for Johnny’s style. The final two Tender standouts for me come from popular Broadway productions … a haunting and melodic “Where is Love” from Oliver! and then the Westside Story signature number  “Somewhere” … just perfect for Johnny’s “prime of his career” range and precision. 

“Tender is the Night” – Johnny Mathis*

 The Wonderful World of Make Believe…

Though Wonderful is well executed by Mathis, arranger Allyn Ferguson and conductor Jack Feierman, the song selection is a bit esoteric. Oh, the numbers lay well for Johnny’s vocal style but some of the less well known (to me anyway) numbers land a little flat.

That said, there are some very nice numbers on this LP. “Camelot”, from the eponymous Broadway show, can come off a little kitschy but not here … Mathis and team steer it straight and keep it out of the kitsch!

There’s a nice and very cinematic version (French horn and strings-o-plenty) of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”. Allyn Ferguson’s version of “Beyond the Sea” is again much more soundtrackish than the popular editions but with Johnny it works and works well.

And could anyone be a better fit to sing a Jiminy Cricket number than Johnny Mathis!? Needless to say “When You Wish Upon a Star” sets up well for Johnny.

Bottom line for me is that the music and vocals are rendered exceptionally well on The Wonderful World of Make Believe half of this double album, but the song selection is just not center cut.

Now that is just me and frankly may be the result of “Mathis overload” after soaking up three days of JM double album listening. I’ve read reviews from several folks that are stoked to the rafters with how much they like Wonderful.

If you’re a Mathis collector, The Wonderful World of Make Believe will be right in your wheelhouse … if not, some of these numbers may or may not fire the embers for you.

“Beyond the Sea” – Johnny Mathis*

As a whole…

Tender/Wonderful is a very nice release. It’s fun to catch up to the “lost Mercury recordings”, and though Wonderful doesn’t deliver quite as strongly as Tender does for me, I recommend Tender Is The Night/Wonderful World of Make-Believe to anyone that considers themselves a “Mathis fan” … you won’t be disappointed.

Tender is the Night/The Wonderful World of Make Believe

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

Disc: 1 (Tender is the Night)
1. Tender Is the Night ++++ perfect Mathis number
2. Laura ++++ a Mercer fav
3. No Strings ++
4. I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby + tempo’s a bit too slow for me but nice
5. April Love +++ Great string charts underpin a great film classic.
6. Call Me Irresponsible ++ tempo drags just a bit but still a winner
7. A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes + nice song, nice sentiment
8. A Ship Without a Sail + OK Richard Rodgers number
9. Forget Me Not ~ not a film or stage song … a bit weak
10. Where Is Love? +++
11. Somewhere +++
12. Tomorrow Song + the other non stage/screen number

Disc: 2 (The Wonderful World of Make Believe)
1. Camelot +++
2. I’m Always Chasing Rainbows +++
3. House of Flowers ++
4. Beyond the Sea+++ ah “La mer”
5. Sky Full of Rainbows + nice song but innocuous
6. Sands of Time ~ I like this number but a bit of a strange gait on this version
7. Shangri-La +++ simple arrangements and pure JM … nice
8. Alice in Wonderland ~ well done Disney number that doesn’t do it for me
9. Dream, Dream, Dream ~ another well struck song that lays flat for me
10. The Wonderful World of Make-Believe + nice number written for JM
11. When You Wish upon a Star +++ disney perfection for JM
12. Beyond the Blue Horizon ++ slow start nut a nice number as it picks up steam

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.]