CD Review: WILL HE LIKE ME? (Philip Chaffin)

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by Tony Frankel on December 3, 2018



I’ve had a few friends do cabarets in which they sing songs they’ll never get hired to do. Then there are cabarets which are song cycles — those which tell the performer’s life story through songs. (There have also been albums like that: Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides, Now comes to mind.) Philip Chaffin, who has the perfect honeyed baritone for those swanky musicals of the 20s and 30s, embarks on an adventure that may be trailblazing to some, and simply the right album at the right moment for others.

Will He Like Me? is a collection of show tunes — some rarely done, some which are part of the Great American Songbook — that tells the story of a relationship from courting to hurdles to true love. Chaffin, who is married to Tommy Krasker, with whom he formed the label PS Classics, has already released four well-produced solo efforts with his label, chock-full of Broadway’s best tunes, so it’s no surprise that this wonderful collection includes such standards as “Mister Snow” and “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe.” But here the pronouns aren’t altered.

It’s a gay love story, sung by one man to another.

Those in the theater community know that gay men have long been a huge part of that world even as they largely stayed in the closet to save their careers. In 2018, it may practically be a shoulder-shrugger when someone comes out in our gender-fluid society, but Out Magazine still arrives in the mailbox in plain-wrap covers, and hate crimes continue worldwide.

So it’s funny to think that a delightful rendition of the bouncy 1930 Billy Rose/Harry Tobias tune, “Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love” could amount to activism in certain circles. But that begs a bigger question: Many gay boys have been glued to show tunes since the beginning, but will straight folk even listen to this? I say this because Mr. Chaffin, who sounds spectacular with John Baxindine’s strong arrangements — from big band to chamber salon — almost seems to be playing at being coy. Take “Charity’s Soliloquy” in which he has the syntax of a dance hall girl in Sweet Charity or “But I Could Cook” done as a harried housewife more than simply a man singing to another man. It’s a bit disconcerting because there’s a slight swishiness one would associate with a stereotype, and it’s on these tracks and a few others that the conceit backfires a bit.

Given that, can I tell you how much of a genius I think Mr. Baxindine is? These are the most delicious orchestrations, so rarely heard on solo efforts anymore. And the songs are played with great sophistication by a five-member band under Richard Carsey’s lovely conducting. Additionally, the selections are stupendous. It’s with gratitude that we aren’t bonked over the head with another Gershwin standard; instead we get “Lovely, Lovely Man” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a rapturous “Tom” from Hello, Again, and the heartbreaking “Who Gave You Permission?” from Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. And who does anything from The Golden Apple let alone the dreamy “Windflowers”? Mr. Chaffin is at the top of his game vocally with strong acting choices and exquisite phrasing. All in all, this is a most welcome album. Yes, I like him.

Will He Like Me?
Philip Chaffin
PS Classics
14 tracks | 48:42 | released November 9, 2018
available on Amazon and iTunes

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