Catholic crooner changes tune in new album

Famous for writing, producing and arranging his own work, Harry Connick Jr. hasn’t been shy about how difficult it was to take direction for his new album, “That Would Be Me.” But you’d never know it listening to the 11-song collection, which showcase Connick’s distinctive voice in a variety of musical styles, with confidence and effortless verve.

The Catholic singer/songwriter displays versatility and depth, as well as moral seriousness, in songs that range from pop music with familiar jazz and funk elements into Gospel-inspired blues and more. It’s not a Christian album — there’s not a hymn among the songs. Instead, it’s an album that reveals an artist at the top of his game, stepping out of his typical styles to sing in new ways.

Two songs stand out particularly for their Catholic outlook. The first, the bluesy “(I Do) Like We Do,” is an ode to married love with a relaxed island vibe and careless, playful lyrics: “Nobody got a you like me and / nobody got this history / of the good times and the hard times and the wild times we been through ... / Nobody got a me like you / and I ain’t much but this much is true / no one does ‘I do’ like we do.”

The second, “Do You Really Need Her,” is effective as a ballad of lost love, but it was written about a father whose young daughter was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. A melancholy song of resignation and the search for hope, the lyrics are haunting and haunted when the “her” the man longs for is his child: “Do you really need her? Do you really need her? Did you take her just for the thrill of it? Did you break my heart for the hell of it?” “Do You Really Need Her” takes Connick’s famous crooning in a new dimension. Like the other songs on the album, it displays an easy mastery of the music that brings out the nuances of the lyrics, the tune and the instrumentation. The result is a journey through musical styles and messages, some as light as a soap bubble, some as dark a crossroads at midnight.

“That Would be Me” opens and ends big, starting with the bright, upbeat “(I Like It When You) Smile” and ending with the dark, blues-funk “Right Where it Hurts.” With touches of reggae and ska, sections that are half scat and half rap, and a an infectious beat, “(I Like it When You) Smile” has the feel Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy” but with more meat: fuller voice, fuller instruments, fuller sound. The remaining numbers vary in style: “(I think I) Love U A Little Bit” is all sunshine; “Every Time I Fall in Love” has the sound of an old standard; “You Don’t Need a Man” starts out like a piano-accompanied ballad but turns into something very different; “Where Prisoners Drown” is a driving, Gospel-inspired blues number about a dangerous man with dangerous desires.

But taken together, all share the same sense of reveling in the sheer enjoyment of the music. Even the last cut, another horn-filled, funky, blues-inspired song about a dangerous love, never seems too dangerous, because it’s too full of joy.

Connick may have had a hard time letting other people tell him how to sing, but it sure doesn’t sound that way. It sounds like he loved every minute. Listeners will, too.

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Gail Deibler Finke writes from Ohio.