The Book of Love opens with Cheryl Bentyne’s creamy smooth vocals cooing:
"You don’t know the one that dreams of you at night,
and longs to kiss your lips, longs to hold you tight.
To you I’m just a friend.
That’s all I’ve ever been,
But you don’t know me."
During the month of November, Bentyne and her label Telarc Records are releasing the CD The Book of Love and if you enjoy love songs that conjure up images of past loves, a current heartthrob or wistful thinking of someone you have a crush on, then you will-dare we say it, love this album.
"It (The Book of Love) starts very innocently like a little child’s first day at school. The sun is coming up, it is a bright spring morning and it is a little crisp. It then becomes bright, red and vivid in the middle, totally alive. It starts to take on a colder, icier, thunderous type of a mood (later on). It ends up with some hope at the end. Even though the relationship is over, life goes on," says Bentyne in describing the album’s progression through the many moods of love.
Bentyne says, "The first song really was about my first love. I wanted to keep it very innocent and we kept the song ("You Don’t Know Me") simple. I thought of it as a very naïve innocent first love."
The Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker tune, "You Don’t Know Me," first surfaced in the mid-fifties as a pretty country tune, but resurfaces on The Book of Love with the velvety, lush jazz arrangements of Corey Allen (Bentyne’s husband, producer and arranger). Bentyne says of the tune, "That came strictly from Corey. He (Corey) was so inspired to write this beautiful string chart that I hadn’t heard. I heard him play (the song) on the piano and I would sing along with that. Magic happened for me when I heard his string chart and then went into the studio to sing it. "You Don’t Know Me" was just so moving to me. I listened to Corey on that one."
Many times when an album of love songs is put together, it is to borrow a phase from Paul McCartney just "Another Silly Love Song" one after another. There really isn’t much to tie them together. When the husband and wife team of Bentyne and Allen set out to create The Book of Love, they wanted to create "the story of a love affair from the beginning to the end," says Allen. Putting on his producer’s hat, Allen wanted to find a through line, "a hook to hang this project on," he says.
Both Bentyne and Allen use words like flirtatious, romantic, lustful and goodbye to describe the The Book of Love. From the longing for love expressed in "You Don’t Know Me" to the fun and teasing duet between John Pizzarelli and Bentyne on "Blue Moon" and ending with "I’m A Fool To Want You," the album will take you through all the emotions that have made your heart soar when you find that someone special, to the tears that accompany disappointment.
What one of us that has ever been in love cannot identify with Bentyne singing "You go to my head with a smile that makes my temperature rise" or "You intoxicate my soul with your eyes," from the song "You Go To My Head?" The Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie tune features a beautiful tapestry of strings by violinist Charlie Bisharat and cellist Armen Ksajikian. Chris Tedesco’s trumpet solo alone makes this song worth listening to.
"It ("You Go To My Head") takes on so many different complexions because it is a very sexy song. I felt that song could really be a turning point in the story and be very, very provocative," says Bentyne. "Lyrically it’s stunning. I love the lyrics. Melodically, it was very challenging. When Corey said, "I am going to take it to a Latin place I thought, 'Oh fabulous,'" she says.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite scene from your favorite romantic movie and you will get just a foretaste of what awaits you in songs, from an album that will move you deep within your soul.
"When Joni Mitchell came out with Both Sides Now, the poignancy of those songs and the beauty of (Vince) Mendoza’s orchestrations stuck in my mind. When Cheryl came up with the Book of Love, I said, "Old idea, but I want to do it and I want you to do it," Allen says laughing.
"I am very, very thrilled with it (The Book of Love) It’s like a child. When you get close to something, it is like the most beautiful child in the world," says Bentyne.
Producer and singer both agree that Bentyne has hit the point in her life when her vocal abilities are at a sweet spot. The quality and range of her vocals may never have been better and some years down the road may not be this good again. She is thrilled with the opportunity to exercise her full vocal range-- something that has not presented itself in her time with Manhattan Transfer, where she takes the soprano part.
"I feel like I am at my peak so the more I can do right now, the better. I guest on a big band record coming out with Scott Whitfield. I’m on a couple of cuts of Lorraine Feather’s record coming out next year," she says. She also recently recorded a couple of songs for Johnny Mandel.
Bentyne’s passionate vocals are much more than a product of her instrument. It is a reflection of where she is in her personal life. "I have a beautiful eleven-year old daughter who is going on twenty-five, and being a mother is enriching my life tenfold on a daily basis. Being married for fifteen years, these are all the things that I think people in entertainment can’t even imagine themselves being involved in. I am an entertainer, on the road, and have all these things in my life, including my health. It is pretty spectacular. The gratitude is pretty big time in my life right now," she says.
Bentyne is a long way removed from the laments of the moody "Cry Me A River," but her vocals and Allen’s arrangements are co-conspirators in creating a stunningly beautiful reading of the song. As she so often does on this album, Bentyne reaches down low for some alto notes that provide us with smoky-tinged images. For me, this song was Bentyne’s most emotive and possibly her best vocal performance on the record.
"Cry Me A River" is a reflection not only of the many colors and feelings that flood the musical landscape that is The Book of Love, but for Bentyne, it also represents the scent of tears. She says, "If I am crying about something that is so deep and so intense, I call them baby tears because you smell the smells of when you were a child." Drawing upon a metaphor to paint a more vivid picture Bentyne explains, "I can remember when I was young smelling the fall leaves on the sidewalk when I walked to school as a little child. That memory is instantaneous. It comes right back and I am six years old again."
As The Book of Love draws to a close, Bentyne turns those baby tears into crocodile tears with "I’m A Fool To Want You" and "Goodbye." Paraphrasing Judy Garland she says, "I’m in the business to make you cry. I don’t have to cry. If I can make you cry by just singing the song the way that I sing it, I have done my job. If I can carry a listener along with my vulnerability as a singer and as a performer, there is some magic in that," says Bentyne.
There is a lot of magic in The Book of Love and you better have a big box of tissues beside you or someone to hold you close. I am privileged to listen to so many talented artists and their music, but Bentyne and Allen may have very well created the most beautiful love story that I have listened to in 2006.