The man can sing. Jimmy Fortune, long a staple in The Statler Brothers, has carved his own path over the years focusing on the spiritual side of country music: a little bit gospel, a whole lotta country.
On "Sings The Classics, Fortune casts a wider net, whilst revisiting the sound and sensibility of Floyd Cramer-era Nashville country music. Although dipping his toes in the secular music pool, Fortune's forceful gospel tenor ably reinterprets this selection of familiar tunes. Ben Isaacs, with solid bluegrass gospel credibility, admirably produced.
It's a mixed bag of tunes, some of which benefit from Fortune's renditions, and others of which remind the listener to spin the original. The instrumentation is lush, with sleepy slide steel guitar licks and pleasant mandolin counterpoints, best displayed, perhaps, in "Danny's Song" made popular by the late, lamented Loggins and Messina.
"Wake Up Little Susie," the Everly Brothers' masterwork, sounds much like the original, just with more audio tracks, and makes a good argument for not revisiting certain iconic recordings. See also "Take It To The Limit," which properly belongs in a place and time (Laurel Canyon, 1972), which doesn't improve with a shift of decades and location. In contrast, The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," with its aching slide steel line fare much better, and Fortune's gospel chops get a workout. Patsy Cline's "Crazy Arms" (written by Ray Price and Willie Nelson) is equally well-suited by Fortune's treatment. Ms. Cline would have sounded genuine and present in any generation, so it's nice to hear the song rendered today by an equally talented singer.
Fortune plumbs his own history, with a version of "Flowers On The Wall, the Statler's signature song, with a combination of banjo, fiddle and ragtime piano, which probably sounded like a good idea in the studio.
Some of the "classics" are bit of a reach. "If, recorded by Bread in the early '70s, suits Fortune's voice just fine, but it strains the conceit of the record to include it. This applies equally to the '70s era "Wildfire." Take a listen to Mandolin Orange's different song of the same name and decide for yourself.
John Denver gets two selections among the classics: "Annie's Song" and "Take Me Home Country Roads," and Fortune handles them well. He also boldly attacks "Yesterday" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to good effect. The latter gets the syrupy steel update as well, and Fortune demonstrates his range and vocal skill.
"Sings The Classics" combines a comfortable, accomplished singer with a range of familiar songs. The audience is likely Fortune fans of a certain age who remember the originals, but are comfortable in Fortune's musical sensibility.