Mel Tormé
Right Now!
(Hot Productions 81-2)

I suppose it is somewhat dubious that major labels can get a second bite at the apple by reissuing hilarious misfires like this one with a newfound sense of "irony." At the time, I'm sure the people at Columbia thought they were making a "hit," but calling in Mel Tormé to spice up "Homeward Bound," "Walk On By," and other hits of '66 was just not an informed decision. Still, Right Now is a pretty groovy little album, attaining hipness in spite of itself.

Like Lena Horne's Soul, this album attempts to make a crooner more "contemporary" and succeeds partly because the singer is totally aware of the ridiculousness factor. I mean, Mel Tormé and "Secret Agent Man"? Yow.

But it works, thanks to Tormé's mastery of phrasing and good humor. (The go-go horns don't hurt, either.)

The track listing mixes pop hits with standards, and Mel tears through either one with the same irreverence. Even when the results are hilariously bad, they are totally enjoyable, and in many cases the songs are hilariously good.

Mel Tormé has never really been properly understood, especially by the generation (mine) that knows him primarily as a running gag on "Night Court." Torme's genius lies in his insane improvisational ability, which manages to sound sophisticated even when utterly bizarre.

Bob Dorough's "Comin' Home Baby" opens the CD and is the strongest track, quite mix-tape friendly. "Homeward Bound" has elicited responses ranging from laughter to anger when I've played it in mixed company. I personally prefer it to the original, mainly for the one low note Mel barely hits but tries to hold out anyway.

Other highlights include a maniacal "Strangers in the Night" in which Mel actually begins scatting with the word "scum." Must be heard to be believed. Another Paul Simon song, "Red Rubber Ball," may define cheese, but it's fun to listen to. This is a song that was wimpy and white to begin with, and Tormé makes it even wimpier and whiter.

The CD is rounded out with ten bonus tracks which for the most part continue the easygoing atmosphere. "Dominique's Discotheque" and "Ciao Baby" are the obvious choices here, and "The Power of Love" is a bitchin' little song any latter-day go-go'er will go-go for.

Right Now! will please lounge fans of every stripe or anyone looking for something quirky to add some flavor to their CD collection. Not especially suited for sex music, though, as it doesn't go very many consecutive minutes before causing outright laughter. But then neither do I (laugh track).

Review by Morry Toner