CHERYL BENTYNE TELLS THE TALE OF THE HUMAN HEART
The Book of Love is an emotional affair
It's a timeless story, full of tragedy and comedy, longing and lust. And it's an old story as well, a bittersweet tale of the heart – one that reaches as far back through the ages as Romeo and Juliet, Arthur and Guinevere, Antony and Cleopatra.
It's The Book of Love, and it's the story that Cheryl Bentyne reads so eloquently on her latest Telarc release. Like love itself, the album follows a trajectory that encompasses an array of emotions – joy, sorrow and every subtle shade in between. Borrowing from a variety of sources, including a few well known selections from the great American songbook, the journey begins with the initial encounter and ends with the inevitable heart-wrenching goodbye.
"These songs were hand-picked to specifically express the stages of love," says Bentyne, a veteran member of the internationally-acclaimed Manhattan Transfer and an accomplished solo artist. "I relate to every one of them. Some are so personal, I'd rather not comment. The songs speak for themselves and hopefully for you, too."
It begins, as always, with longing. Bentyne opens the story with the poignant "You Don't Know Me," a song that laments the emotional distance of a casual acquaintance who has no idea of the spark that results from the mere touch of a hand. "Be My Love" by Sammy Cahn and Nicholas Brodsky, is cast in a simple arrangement – Bentyne singing atop a beautiful classical guitar line delivered by Wayne Johnson, with a stirring cello interlude by Armen Ksajikian.
But the pining can only last so long. Eventually, someone has to make a move, and the flirtation marks the beginning of a new chapter in the story. The lighthearted "Blue Moon," a well known pick from the Rodgers and Hart catalog, is configured here as a vocal duet with special guest vocalist John Pizzarelli. Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" is infectiously crafted with a number of tempo and style changes to keep this old standard as fresh as the day it was written.
If lust is the engine that drives a love affair, then Bentyne's smoldering delivery of "Don't Say a Word" actually says plenty. The gentle cascades of pianist/producer Corey Allen and the sultry interlude by saxophonist Bob Sheppard set a tone that's unmistakably passionate.
The album's central chapter is love in its purest and most selfless form. Reminiscent of some of the Manhattan Transfer's finest moments on record, the title track features the tightly layered harmonies of Bentyne alongside guest vocalists Mark Kibble and Alvin Chea of Take 6. The track is followed by the very personal "You Taught My Heart To Sing," featuring pianist Corey Allen as the lone accompanist.
The euphoria in this middle part of the story is undeniable, and every day is a thing of beauty. The subtle Latin undercurrent of "You Go To My Head" captures that boundless, heady joy that comes in the midst of a seemingly perfect love affair.
But all good things end. The masks come off, the illusions dissolve and the heartbreak begins. The torchy "Cry Me a River" is an emotional send-off to an errant lover whose second chance has long since come and gone. Much more poignant and emotionally conflicted is "I'm a Fool To Want You," a tune co-authored by Frank Sinatra for Ava Gardner, whom many considered the love of his life.
When all is said and done, the only word left unspoken is "Goodbye." The closing track is an admission that it's time to accept reality and move on, however painful that process might be.
In the end, Bentyne reminds us of the paradoxical beauty of love. It can break the human heart, but it can mend it as well. "Our Book of Love tells the story of a love affair," she says. "From the thrill of infatuation and flirting, to longing, then lust, on to disillusion and ultimately to 'goodbye.' But hope and desire for true love spring eternal. Alas, goodbye is not 'goodbye.'"
Pick up The Book of Love and hear the timeless story of the heart.