There’s hardly a false note on Engelbert Humperdinck’s “The Man I Want to Be” (OK! Good Records). No rapping, no clumsy evidence of Auto-Tune, no heavy-handed attempts to sound hip and no screaming guitar solos.
Instead, 50 years after his first hits and closing in on his 82nd birthday, Humperdinck has created a heartfelt album anchored in archetypal orchestrations and honest, unspoiled performances of well-chosen songs.
Created as a message of love to his wife Patricia, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, her muse has brought the best out of her husband of over 50 years. You won’t hear the vocal power or range of his heyday, but Humperdinck can still transmit plenty of feeling without an ounce of schmaltz.
There are versions of contemporary hits like the Bruno Mars smash “Just the Way You Are” and Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph,” adapted to match Humperdinck’s natural style. “Just Like the First Time” seems to address his wife’s struggle head-on — “You don’t know me now/But in some way, somehow/Maybe there’s a moment you are mine.”
The only pure indulgence is a duet with granddaughter Olivia on “I’m Glad I Danced With You,” closing the first half of the record. The song itself, dedicated to Patricia, is fine — Humperdinck sounds a little like Gordon Lightfoot at times — and Olivia’s contribution surely made granddad proud.
Opener “Absolute Beginner” is clearly country, while the closing section of show favorites includes Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” “On Broadway” and “Welcome to My World,” which was made famous by Jim Reeves and quotes the Sermon on the Mount.
Albums he made a decade ago or more were already said to be possibly his last but “The Man I Want to Be” is vintage Humperdinck and a rewarding listen.