Put on a Happy Face
February 7, 2017
Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes
Norm Drubner is a seasoned saloon singer. He’s no Bobby Short or Hugh Shannon, but he’s just so pleasant to listen to on his new treasure trove of standards, Put on a Happy Face. He sings in a gentle baritone with a raspy edge that makes the listener know this is a man of a certain age who knows how to express himself through honesty. There is no drama and no fire and brimstone here. Just old-fashioned, supple crooning by one who honors the American Songbook and loves these songs.
He’s also dug back in time. This is particularly evident on a warm reading of the 1935 “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” (Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby/Oscar Hammerstein). Here, he weaves a cozy take on a favorite that is a special cut on a CD filled with gems. Drubner treats every song with respect for the lyric through unadorned phrasing as the melody unfolds with earthy simplicity. He has fun with a lively “I Won’t Dance.” Singing in his effortless baritone on the 1955 “You Don’t Know Me,” he is so heartfelt in his delivery that one can’t help be touched by the poignant message in this gem that was a hit for several greats like Eddy Arnold and Ray Charles.
Gary Keller’s weeping sax complements the cut even more. The same formula also makes a languid “What’ll I Do?” (Irving Berlin) from 1923 a highlight, with Tony Kadleck’s legato trumpet. In fact, all the arrangements by Nick Bariluck (keyboards) are superior on this noir disc of classics. Wrapping up with 1930’s “She Was Too Good to Me” (Rodgers and Hart), Drubner again seems to tap another personal chord and brims with melancholia.
This is a sweet album by a classy singer who can’t hide his heart. Kudos to the superb band on this album. In addition to Bariluck, Kadleck and Keller (also on flute), the singer is supported by Bob Leonard (drums), Arthur Lipner (vibraphone), Henry Lugo (bass) and Chris Morrison (guitar).