Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sentimental Journeys

My uncle had a long retirement because of a disability he'd acquired during the Second World War. Often when I'd go to visit him, he'd be engaged in some home improvement project. Usually it would involve painting. One time it involved stringing stereo wire along the tops of walls so that a record could be amplified throughout one floor of the house. (Boy, don't I smile secretly now at this memory in our age of tiny wireless speakers!)

Anyway, he often had on a radio station that played what they called "The Music of Your Life". So the Mills Brothers or Helen O'Connell or the Ray Conniff Singers would be booming as I entered his home. He had a deep bank of musical memories to draw upon that I've come to appreciate since my twenties. I know he would have adored the collection I'm featuring today.

In 1992 Capitol Records began digging in their archives and issuing a series of CDs celebrating music of the great era of American Popular Song. I'm here to recommend a release in this series: a 2-volume set entitled Great Ladies (and Gentlemen) of Song.

Sentimental Journey: Great Ladies of Song is a delight, both in terms of the songs chosen and the singers selected to render them. It has 26 tracks stuffed on it (!) in a smart arrangement. (Each lady appears twice.) The CD booklet is gorgeous. Besides featuring the usual information on writers/recording dates/conductors, it also has archival images of the singers in the bloom of their youth.

So I hope that you can spend some time with this blog entry. Kick back and click on my links to the songs as I proceed through the collection.

It kicks off with Dinah Shore singing "Sentimental Journey". This song is well-trod to say the least, but Dinah freshens it up by personalizing the lyric in mid-song. She takes off running through the lyric once.

I want to go back home
way down to Nashville
Want to go home
Do you know why?
I miss the folks I know
Ma's home cookin'
I miss the black-eyed peas
etc., etc.

The song is cleverly arranged by Nelson Riddle. It opens with a trill from a flute, followed by pulsating bass notes from a string section reminiscent of the deep sound a bagpipe makes. Then the rhythm section slides in and, as inevitably happened with recordings in 1959, some male voices providing smooth back-up with their "All-Aboards!" as Dinah proceeds into the song. Of course there are different horns too, and a piano tinkling at certain intervals. All together, taken purely from an orchestral viewpoint, a lot to listen to and enjoy.

Here are some other voices on the collection that you might have little familiarity with:

Helen Forrest--her rendition of "I Had the Craziest Dream" (wonderful version, with the opening verse inserted in the center of the song like a luscious cherry)

The Andrew Sisters--"Well All Right! (Tonight's the Night)" makes you wonder exactly what wave these gals were riding when they were popular. In this version I'm surprised to hear strains of Cab Calloway, complete with the "hoy, hoy"s!

Mavis Rivers--just listening about a whistle calling the end of a work day signaled by a whistle ("Five O'Clock Whistle") makes you smile. The fact that Papa doesn't make it home shortly after only adds to the pleasure.

Martha Tilton--Lovely swing version of "And the Angels Sing" conducted by Benny Goodman in 1955. Tilton squeezes the juice out of some modifiers in the lyric, and stretches beautifully on other vowels. If you're a vocal connoisseur, she is a fascinating listen. Plus there's a great sinuous clarinet solo in the middle of the song.

June Christy--Backed by Stan Kenton, she swings with a number that jazz trios must salivate over: "Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy". This recording dates from 1945. Ah, back then loose and free jazz vocalizing was the order of business!

Ella Mae Morse--She sings "No Love, No Nothin'", a song by Leo Robbin and Harry Warren that I've only heard sung by one other artist. (Susannah McCorkle) It's emblematic of the smart, idiosyncratic choices in this collection.

Anita O'Day--She sings about a lowdown guy receiving his comeuppance in "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine".

June Hutton--I have always enjoyed "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" as a song of complete and utter prostration before the object of your affection. I was very pleased to find this on the collection. Frank Sinatra also memorably delivered a version on 1984's L.A. Is My Lady. Hutton also delivers a wonderfully hopped-up and energetic version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief".

There are also well-chosen cuts from familiar voices like Peggy Lee (reminding you of her tremendous skills as a songwriter with "I Don't Know Enough About You"), Billie Holiday ("Trav'lin Light"), and Keely Smith ("I'll Never Smile Again").

I enjoy letting these songs snake through my head as I'm working. They are such a lovely representation of a certain time and place and attitude. This CD is a "must" for anyone wishing to improve their pop music literacy!


Linda Leyble said...

Hey Jeff - Just found your blog and I love it. I have very similar musical tastes. Love Nellie McKay - and Randy Newman - the McGarrigles, Rufus and Loudon and some others you have listed here.

I have a musical question for you. In the late 70s, I heard a song that was a rendition of the Supremes song "My World is Empty Without You." It was done in a folk version. I leard it around the time that Dancer with Bruised Knees came out - so in my mind I always thought it was done by the McGarrigles. But I can't find it anywhere on the web. Do you remember that song - or have any way to find it?

Thanks for all your info...

Linda Leyble

Anonymous said...

Hello Jeff, i've been trying to understand what Dinah Shore says after "Ma's home cookin'" but i couldn't find the lyrics online,in between i got here, but you see, i'm not english so i can't really get what she says, could you help me? thank you