from today’s nytimes
Creating Some of That New Black Magic
By STEPHEN HOLDEN, September 29, 2011
In the unlikely event that a modern version of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack restores “Mad Men”-era lounge singing to the forefront of pop fashion, Seth MacFarlane shows potential to compete for the title New Chairman of the Board, or at least a latter-day Dean Martin. Known as the creator of “Family Guy,” Mr. MacFarlane, 37, turns out to be a devotee of the American Songbook.
In “Seth MacFarlane: Swingin’ in Concert,” on the Epix Channel on Friday, Mr. MacFarlane sings a dozen traditional pop songs (many of them obscure) with a 39-piece big band, including strings, arranged and conducted by Joel McNeely. Sara Bareilles joins him on two numbers. All the songs are included on Mr. MacFarlane’s just-released album, “Music Is Better Than Words.”
More than Martin, the crooner whom the suave, self-assured Mr. MacFarlane resembles is Steve Lawrence. Like Mr. Lawrence, he is vocally relaxed, has perfect pitch and plays it cool even when swinging hard. Under Mr. MacFarlane’s cherubic facade is a streak of mischief. Because he is a great mimic with a storehouse of cartoon voices developed for animated characters, you’re bound to wonder to what degree his crooning voice is a kind of impersonation. Like Mr. Lawrence, Mr. MacFarlane keeps emotional involvement in lyrics at arm’s length.
At the same time, his fun-loving geniality is never condescending. He is invested in what he sings. Discussing “It’s Easy to Remember,” he notes that the lyricist Lorenz Hart could “utterly paralyze you with regret,” then adds respectfully that Hart “was a depressed alcoholic, but wrote a lot of great songs because of it.” The presence of Michael Feinstein— who introduces Mr. MacFarlane, calls himself a “MacFarlane-aholic” and jokes that he is encroaching on his territory — certifies Mr. MacFarlane’s seriousness.
His saucy between-song comments are only slightly milder than his jibes as a Comedy Central roast master (most recently of Charlie Sheen).“Don’t think of this as the music your grandparents listened to,” he says, “but as the music your grandparents listened to while they were making your parents.”
In his postscript to “The Night They Invented Champagne,” he observes that the song, from “Gigi,” is “about a grown man dating a 15-year-old, so basically ‘Gigi’ is R. Kelly for white people.” Except for “It’s Easy to Remember,” and “Something Good” (from “The Sound of Music”), most of the songs are obscure. Some will recognize “Two Sleepy People” and “You’re the Cream in My Coffee.” But almost no one will be able to place his album’s affable title song, from the 1955 movie “It’s Always Fair Weather.”
If Mr. McFarlane has yet to develop the swaggering body language of a Rat Pack veteran, he has the appropriate bad-boy attitude.
“What did Dean say?” he remarks. “You’re not drunk until you can lie on the floor without holding on?” Suddenly we’re in Las Vegas 50 years ago.
Seth Macfarlane, Swingin’ in Concert. Epix, Friday night at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.