Once, while riding high on a booze-filled interstate tour as a freelance rock journalist, I ran into Harry Connick Jr. in the lobby of our Queensland hotel. I was terribly hungover and he was wearing Crocs. I’m pretty sure this shattered every illusion I’ve ever had about the smoothest man in music – any kind of music – period. We all make fashion mistakes, but the golden-voiced, exceptionally good-looking, Harry Met Sally-soundtrack writing heir to the New Orleans jazz throne was certainly not, at least in my mind, allowed to. After all, who were we meant to look up to if not Harry Connick Jr? The guy cut his teeth doing jazz covers and writing his own compositions and then threw it all in during the mid-90s because he felt like starting a funk and soul band. That’s like Michael Buble abandoning his gold-plated post and become an indie-rock artist (OK, not exactly, jazz and funk are neighboring genres with a lot in common, but it was still a huge deal.) As I’ve mentioned once before when unravelling the title track from She, this album – and indeed this song – has been in the Seidler family for decades. Aside from Spice World and that posthumous Biggie CD single, it’s maybe the only only record that survived both the digital and then streaming revolution. It’s probably scratched to pieces, but somewhere deep in the storage facilities of our household is that swanky looking 1994 album and I even before we get to song Number Five assure you that the guy is not wearing Crocs on the cover photo.
‘(I Could Only) Whisper Your Name’ is something you can imagine your Dad dancing to until you realise that you’re on the floor and so is everyone you know. It’s not particularly fast-paced or disco-inspired, but it has this inherent swagger, partly Connick Jr’s and partly bass-related, that really promotes active body movement. Because the best type of funk is the funk that swings, where you hear the horns leaning back on their notes until you think they’re about to combust right inside your ears, this track is a notable example of cross-pollination that actually doesn’t sound like it’s trying so hard. Harry, who plays piano, composes and conducts in addition to being a devastating presence on the microphone, assembled a band specifically for the record, and you can tell they know what they’re doing. All the hits are precise, like the snare/trumpet syncopated blasts at the end of each bridge into the verse, the bass lopes in with conviction and that stomping guitar solo, which really comes out of nowhere, is pure ’70s. The way the end of that section transforms into a keys line and then effortlessly shifts keys back down into the main ostinato is a particularly impressive musical sleight-of-hand. It would be horribly difficult to work out with a huge group of players, but you wouldn’t know from listening to it. Ah, the magic of showbiz.
Despite his Crocs, I will not hear of anyone dismissing Harry Connick Jr. because the man can sing like it’s nobody’s business. Listening to his vocals is to understand what ‘a voice like honey’ means in practical terms; he just glides through his tenor notes like he was born doing it, and never seems to exert any strain. Not only that, but he doesn’t just sit back and croon, either. On this song particularly, he makes big leaps to high notes (‘N-oo/doubt for them it’s true’) and carries them off so damn well. Even in this new flirtation which would only last him two records, Connick seems inside the music rather than fronting it for kicks. In my mind, I can see him kicking out at every accent, spinning around in an open suit and directing those trombones into their next slide. By the time it ended up on The Mask soundtrack, Harry Connick Jr had scored his biggest ever pop hit while apparently trying to do exactly the opposite. What a dude. What a song. Timeless.
Harry Connick Jr. – ‘(I Could Only) Whisper Your Name’