THE ALBUM -- Dionne Warwick, "No Night So Long," Arista (AL 9526); THE SHOW -- At Merrriweather Post Pavilion, this Friday at 8 p.m.
After 40 single hits and two dozen albums, Dionne Warwick has earned a special place in the league of pop romantic crooners. Her classy, show biz-slick style shines again on her new album, "No Night So Long." Over all, the polished effort is Dionne's best since her heyday with the Burt Bacharach team of the 60s.
You'll need a good excuse to be ignorant of the winning Bacharach-Hal David catalog: song like "Walk On By," "Message to Michael," "Alfie," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" and "Promises, Promises." Just the titles conjure a crystalline voice, never wavering and hitting impossible highs and lows with dexterity. Dionne was on top.
But the '70s weren't so kind to her. She did have one smash single with The Spinners, "Then Came You," but otherwise her career was in a slump. A series of wrong producers and bum albums did nothing to keep her in the public's hearts or record collections.
Enter Barry Manilow, producer of last year's "Dionne" album, who partially revived the fading star. On the heavily orchestrated "I'll Never Love This Way Again," she seemed to regain her touch, proving her range on the wave-like melody.
Now, drawing from some of the best current pop-rock songwriters for her material, she's out of the rut. Her newest album, produced by Steve Buckingham, is packed with flowing, upbeat, middle-of-the-road love ballads. And she's elegant as ever.
The title track, "No Night So Long," isn't the best but it draws on the same fluid rising and falling refrains that the composers (Richare Kerr and Will Jennings) wrote into "I'll Never Love This Way Again." And again, this is a violin and vocal extravaganza, a richly hued song about hope and a little help from an old friend.
Gifted composer Carole Bayer Sager (who's been covered by all the hot pop-rock female singers) penned one number, "It's the Falling in Love," with a lively beat and catchy hookline that's her specialty. Warwick is forceful on the soaring chorus: It's the falling in love That's makin' me high, It's the bein' in love that makes me cry , cry, cry
Other cuts are closer to pure rhythm and blues -- notably Peabo Bryson's "Reaching for the Sky" and Issac Hayes's "We Never Said Goodby," a haunting, bittersweet remembrance full of strings and Hayes's organ flourishes. The best cut, "Somebody's Angel" by Peter Allen, allows Warwick to show off her precise phrasing and dramatic soprano, offset by a sweet female backup chorus and leading to an elaborate finish. The low point is Melissa Manchester's slow-moving "We Had This Time," an over-wrought easily forgotten torch song.
Even at her emotional peaks, Warwick is somehow to ladylike to lose her composure -- maybe for fear of messing up her Vegas gowns and furs. But if her voice isn't the novelty it was back in the "Alfie" days, it is still vibrant.