Most are likely familiar with many of his characters’ voices, but Seth MacFarlane’s singing will make anyone nostalgic for an epoch you couldn’t possibly have guessed: the 1950s.
The venerable sound and styling of traditional pop often goes under appreciated by Gen Y, but MacFarlane’s “Music Is Better Than Words” is a great catalyst to rediscovering and reviving 1950s jazz and traditional pop among this generation.
Pushing the heavy layer of “Family Guy” fame aside, MacFarlane debuted his big band album this past fall, picking up a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Album, although the award went to the renowned Tony Bennett for Duets II in the end. “Music Is Better Than Words” is exceptionally authentic and stylistic to the timeless era of 1950s pop which earned the album, and engineer Rich Breen and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, a nomination for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
Short of hopping into a time machine, a lot was done to emulate the mid-century sounds of traditional pop in “Music Is Better Than Words.” According to the album notes, producer/arranger/conductor Joel McNeely and engineer Rich Breen worked to find the myriad differences between today’s music and those iconic recordings. Rather than digitally recording the album like many artists today, songs on the album were recorded to analog tape, known for its natural sounding quality. During recording, the musicians in the band all played together, as they would in a live performance, with no isolated instruments. This allowed the music to pervade the various orchestra microphones for a beautiful, cohesive sound. Breen also decided to use fewer microphones in the orchestra, just as recording artists in the ‘50s would have. MacFarlane even sang into the very microphone that captured the ineffable voice of Frank Sinatra so many years ago.
MacFarlane eschewed overdone pop standards for lesser-known gems, collaborating with nine time Grammy winner Nora Jones in the ballad of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser’s “Two Sleepy People” and Sara Bareilles in the playful duet of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cohn’s “Love Won’t Let You Get Away.” The upbeat swing-tune “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” of Meredith Wilson’s musical The Music Man is an exhilarating rendition of the original. And bringing the album to a close is the romantic predicament of “She’s Wonderful Too,” a song co-written by MacFarlane, McNeely and Jonathan Hales.
You won’t be disappointed with the sophisticated sounds of MacFarlane’s “Music Is Better Than Words.” So turn off the auto-tune, play a little jazz and share in the preservation of these wonderful classics. Maybe it will inspire to you listen, if you don’t already, to other notable artists of the ‘50s traditional pop era such as Perry Como, Dean Martin and (my personal favorite) Ella Fitzgerald.
And I’m sorry, Jay-Z, but what was that about being the new Sinatra?