Dennis McNeil, a former opera singer who lives and sings locally, has a mature voice, suited to a lower, darker range, and the 12 songs on “About Time” seem chosen to reflect that. He’s backed up on this disc by a band that’s content to keep a low profile, their playing restrained even when certain members – saxophonist Tom Scott, guitarist Craig Stull, and pianist/arranger Ed Martel – briefly step out into the spotlight.
Throughout, there’s a careful, clean feel to the playing, and the sound quality and mix is agreeable, but whether it’s the record’s intention or not the impression conveyed is that this is easy-listening, adult contemporary lounge music to be savored over drinks and dinner and even light conversation. I don’t want to call it background music, but “About Time” (a collection of cover tunes) lacks the intimacy that makes one want to pay close attention.
McNeil is evidently quite comfortable with his voice, and in addition to operatic performances he’s sung the role of Mr. Snow in “Carousel” hundreds of times, in multiple productions, but on this album his ventures into the higher registers are not convincing. As mentioned, McNeil’s is a mature voice, which is also to imply that it doesn’t have the warm tones or flexibility of youth. “Besame Mucho” is another case in point. This song demands sensuous, smoldering vocals and, what would help here, a more seductive arrangement.
But what comes across more is a sense that, so accustomed to singing operatically, McNeil feels as if he has to belt out each number, swinging for the fence each time when a bunt single would occasionally be more effective. Imagine sitting across from him, expecting or at least hoping to be gently serenaded, and then realizing that he’s singing to be heard by the neighbors down the block. In short, it doesn’t feel as if McNeil is singing for “us” but rather for “them.”
It’s possible the effect is entirely different when McNeil performs in front of an audience in a club setting, as he’ll do this weekend. He does, after all, have a devoted following that regularly comes out to lend their support.
If you go:
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday (doors open at 6:30)
Where: Live at the Lounge, 1018 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach