The idea of contemporary singers recording popular standards is nothing new. Artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Glenn Frey and Smokey Robinson have tackled that old-fashioned romantic sound in a departure from their usual rock and pop music roots. But lately there have also been modern-day artists specifically recreating the jazz sounds of the 1920s Prohibition era -- the most recent being British rock singer Bryan Ferry's "The Jazz Age," an album of solo and Roxy Music songs reworked with an orchestra.
That is also certainly true of the of music that is featured on the newly released "Boardwalk Empire Volume 2: Music From The HBO Original Series" (ABKCO), the follow-up to 2011's "Volume 1." This latest collection features mostly rock and pop artists paired with the fabulous Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks on songs of the period depicted in the hit show, which just had its earlier this month.
Longtime fans of some of the rock artists on this new soundtrack may be surprised to hear their heroes in this light but ultimately pleased by them as well. There's David Johansen of legendary '70s punk group New York Dolls singing with gusto (and evoking a little bit of Louis Armstrong) on the big band stomp of "Strut Miss Lizzie"; punk poet Patti Smith does a very soulful rendition of "I Ain't Got Nobody"; and the National's Matt Berlinger -- known for his band's moody alternative rock music -- shows perhaps somewhat of uncharacteristic romantic side in the straightforward "I'll See You in My Dreams."
No stranger when it comes to performing romantic-sounding ballads (having previously duetted with Tony Bennett), rocker Elvis Costello handles the popular standard, "It Had to Be You." Meanwhile, St. Vincent and Neko Case deliver elegant and soulful performances of "Make Believe" and "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out," respectively.
"Volume 2" doesn't entirely consist of modern-day rock acts. Liza Minnelli gives a brash, no-nonsense treatment of "You've Got To See Mama Every Night (Or You Can't See Mama at All)." And two of the actresses featured in the series, Kathy Brier and Margot Bingham, offer their musical contributions: the former on "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and the latter on "Somebody Loves Me."
Based on the performances from these contemporary artists, this soundtrack is proof of how timeless this music is, long after the Prohibition era has faded.