Harry Connick, Jr.: She

Much ado was made of Harry Connick, Jr. back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was simultaneously hailed and derided for being the next Frank Sinatra, having scored commercial success with albums of jazz standards.

In the mid-’90s, Connick ditched that bread and butter by releasing a pair of rock albums — She in 1994, Star Turtle in 1996. I’m not much an adherent to the great American songbook, but Connick looked like he was committing career suicide at the time, and I wanted to hear what it sounded like.

A "Harry Connick, Jr. rock album" didn’t turn out to be Pat Boone crooning metal hits or Garth Brooks indulging a rock alter ego. Rather, Connick turned to the music of his youth.

She is a showcase for New Orleans music, that mix of rock and funk emblematic of the town’s party atmosphere. "Between Us" pretty much sold me on the album. A smooth song with a nice beat, "Between Us" gave the sense Connick’s cool voice was absolutely at home.

That ease comes through nicely on the album. "Here Comes the Big Parade" is as joyous as the title indicates, while "To Love the Language" employs some great wordplay over a shuffle beat.

"Honestly Now (Safety’s Just Danger … Out of Place)" shows Connick going for a more straight-forward rock sound, and it’s not as awkward as it looks on paper.

On "Funky Dunky", Connick eschews vocals altogether, letting his fingers do the talking, while the concluding "Booker" goes straight for gospel and soul.

She isn’t without its faults. "Joe Slam and the Spaceship" is an overly long exercise which deflates the album’s momentum. And a pair of tracks titled "Follow the Music" just plain don’t have a point.

Still, She is an enjoyable album and a great departure for Connick. The great American songbook may bring in the cash and the fans, but on this album, Connick plays for himself and sounds great doing so.