For those of us who remember Mel Torme as a self-indulgent virtuoso much taken with the sound of his own voice, “Long Ago and Far Away” will be a revelation. During a well chosen program of Great American Songbook gems, The Velvet Fog (less foggy at this early stage of his career) sticks relatively close to the melodies, singing as always with perfect pitch and diction. I've never heard a more convincing version of “Sleepy Time Down South” (even if Torme occasionally seems a trifle embarrassed by the lyrics.) The first time you hear the phrase “folks down there live a life of ease,” you'll want to hop the next plane for some bucolic spot below the Mason-Dixon Line.
The versions of “Where Are You” and “Long Ago and Far Away” are nearly as compelling. “Love Me or Leave Me” swings effortlessly (Torme's voice here uncannily reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald's) and “Gone With the Wind” is sublime.
These magnificent tunes have been tortured and bent out of shape for so long by so many that it's a joy to hear them sung right — with clarity, respect and a clear-eyed narrative of their great lyrics. Download the entire album. There's not a miss in the bunch.