Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer were, indeed, two of a kind. Though Darin is known first and foremost as one of the most dynamic performers of all time, and Mercer as one of the most prodigiously talented songwriters of all time, Bobby was no slouch in the songwriting department, and Mercer was a remarkably engaging vocalist. Both men were entrepreneurs and keen talent spotters who added immeasurably to the fabric of American music and culture. They came together on record but once, for a 1961 romp on Darin’s then-home of Atco Records. (He would soon move onto the label Mercer built, Capitol Records.) That singularly delicious album, Two of a Kind, has just been reissued and generously expanded in a splendid new deluxe edition from Omnivore Recordings.
Two of a Kind matched the brash young Darin with elder statesman Mercer, some 27 years older, in a big band bash boasting the arrangements of the one and only Billy May (Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly with Me, Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Harold Arlen Songbook). That this would be no usual album was evident from the very first, deliciously brassy title track co-written by Darin and Mercer, in which they stop the music for a bit of amusing banter. That freewheeling spirit – and the frequent, jovial and gently ribbing banter between the two artists – permeates the entire LP, featuring an array of standards both well- and hardly-remembered, rendered in high-spirited style. (The jaunty “Two of a Kind,” in “complete” form, also closes out the album on as high a note as it began.)
The album’s loose vibe led to all-around entertainer Darin launching into impersonations of W.C. Fields, Dean Martin, and Groucho Marx on “Ace in the Hole,” accompanied by May in the tinkling, twinkling style of a turn-of-the-century barroom. The mutual admiration society of Mercer and Darin gleefully spar on “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jellyroll” and invest happily old-fashioned chestnuts like “My Cutey’s Due at Two-to-Two Today,” “Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home” and “Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter” (“…while the caretaker’s busy taking care?”) with plentiful doses of good humor. On the latter, Darin even throws in a taste of Elvis for up-to-the-minute currency.
Famously natives of Georgia and New York, respectively, Mercer and Darin nonetheless threw themselves into “(Back Home Again In) Indiana,” swinging and scatting up a storm. The pair’s musical travels also took them “East of the Rockies” and then to the Magnolia State for a fast-paced taste of “Mississippi Mud.”
In addition to “Two of a Kind,” Mercer brought three more songs from his considerable catalogue. May’s famously playful sense as an orchestrator is in full force on the avian-themed duet “Bob White.” The song asks, “Ain’t ya gonna swing tonight?” and the answer is a resounding YES…as if the two artists, trading off lines with goofy zeal, would do it any other way! The mood is a bit more relaxed on “If I Had My Druthers” from Mercer and Gene DePaul’s beloved Broadway musical Li’l Abner. Mercer’s drawl is irresistible, matched by Darin’s preternatural cool. Another Mercer/DePaul tune, “Lonesome Polecat” from MGM’s film musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, gets a sly, hip makeover with a slinky R&B vibe.
A full seven previously unreleased bonus tracks round out this first-ever expanded edition: two outtakes and five alternates. Dave Dreyer and Harry Ruby’s 1926 “Cecilia” and Leslie Stuart’s “Lily of Laguna” (a late-19th century minstrel show staple adapted in the 1930s to shed its unfortunate, racist overtones) both would have fit within the framework of the album, and are worthy additions to the set. The outtakes are fun to compare, offering an additional window onto the seemingly spontaneous performances and sensational orchestrations, plus some brief studio chatter.
Michael Graves has beautifully remastered for this edition, and reissue co-producer Cheryl Pawelski shares her personal memories of the reissue’s genesis in her own essay which doubles as a loving tribute to Darin’s longtime friend and manager, the late Steve Blauner. Omnivore’s reissue of Two of a Kind celebrates the best vaudeville “double act” that never was in fine fashion. If I had my druthers, you wouldn’t miss it.
Also available from Second Disc Records and Real Gone Music: Bobby Darin’s Another Song on My Mind: The Motown Years – a comprehensive 2-CD retrospective of the legendary entertainer’s tenure at Motown Records! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)