Short Takes, Classic Pop Edition: What’s Coming From Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett
Today’s Short Takes looks at a variety of upcoming releases with one thing in common: great vocalists in the tradition of the Great American Songbook!
First up, let’s take a look at an album of new recordings from a favorite reissue label. One genre has never been enough to contain the musical restlessness of Willie Nelson. The country legend and honky-tonk hero created his own standards with his early songs such as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” before paying tribute to the Great American Songbook of yore with 1978’s chart-topping Stardust. Since that seminal album, the prolific Nelson has made frequent returns to the realm of standards of both the pop and country genres. His latest such effort arrives from our friends at Legacy Recordings on April 15.
Roughly two weeks before Nelson celebrates his 80th birthday on April 30, Legacy will release Let’s Face the Music and Dance from Willie Nelson and Family. Recorded in Austin, Texas and produced by Buddy Cannon, the album of all-new recordings is titled after the 1936 Irving Berlin song. He’s joined by Family, the band he formed with his sister Bobbie Nelson (on piano), drummer Paul English and Mickey Raphael on harmonica. They’re accompanied by Paul’s brother Billy English (keeping it all in the family, after all) on electric gut string and snare drum, Kevin Smith on upright bass and Jim “Moose” Brown on B-3 organ. Willie’s son Micah Nelson, who contributed to Nelson’s 2011 Legacy debut Heroes, contributes percussion. Pop, rock, jazz and country classics all have found a place on Let’s Face the Music and Dance, including songs from Carl Perkins (“Matchbox”), Frank Loesser (“I Wish I Didn’t Love You So”), Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh (“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”) and Django Reinhardt (“Nuages”).
Willie’s celebratory jaunt through some of the songs that have shaped his own musical legacy hits stores on April 15.
The U.K.’s Sepia Records label continues to offer a number of rare vocal, soundtrack and cast album treats, many of them available as a result of the U.K.’s current public domain laws. Last month’s batch of reissues included titles from Jack Jones, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, and Enoch Light. Come February 12, Sepia will release the following:
Pat Boone, I’ll See You in My Dreams/This and That – Sepia continues its series dedicated to Pat Boone with this new release. The label is supplementing two original Boone LPs with seven bonus tracks, and many of these tracks have not appeared on CD outside of Bear Family’s complete box sets. Rather than being in rock-and-roll mode here, Boone tackles standards including “That Old Black Magic,” “My Blue Heaven,” “The Tennessee Waltz” and even “Peg o’ My Heart.”
Jane Morgan, What Now My Love/At the Cocoanut Grove – The great chanteuse’s final two albums for Kapp Records, both from 1962, are joined together on one CD. What Now My Love, a collection of torch songs, is notable for having been arranged and conducted by the young Burt Bacharach. It includes Bacharach and Bob Hilliard’s song “Waiting for Charlie to Come Home.” (Morgan first recorded a new Bacharach song with 1959’s “With Open Arms.” Around the time of the LP, Bacharach recorded his “Forever My Love” with Morgan as the B-side to the single of “What Now My Love,” and he also arranged and conducted a Terry Gilkyson song, “Ask Me to Dance,” for her.) Cocoanut Grove features Jane on extended medleys of Paris-themed songs and tunes popularized by actress/singer Lillian Russell (1860-1922).
Tony Mottola, Roman Guitar 2/Spanish Guitar – Sepia pairs two 1962 Command Records LPs from session guitarist extraordinaire Tony Mottola on one CD. Roman Guitar 2 made it all the way to No. 46 on the U.S. Billboard album chart and contains performances of Italian-themed favorites like “Funiculi Funicula.” For Spanish Guitar, Mottola turned to “Tico-Tico,” “Granada” and even “Lady of Spain.” Mottola continued to record into the 1980s, but this pair of albums finds the guitarist in his prime, making music ready-made for dancing in front of the hi-fi.
Original Soundtrack Recordings, The Road to Hong Kong/Say One for Me – Two rare soundtracks starring Bing Crosby have been collected on one CD. From 1962 and 1959, respectively, The Road to Hong Kong and Say One for Me have never previously been available on CD. The original Liberty Records soundtrack to Hong Kong finds Crosby and Bob Hope joined by Joan Collins and Dorothy Lamour; Columbia’s Say One for Me album features Debbie Reynolds and Robert Wagner.
After the jump: Wounded Bird revives a long out-of-print title from the Queen of Soul, and travel with Tony Bennett as time goes by!
By 1972, Aretha Franklin had indisputably already earned her title as the Queen of Soul. After a creatively successful but commercially tepid stint at Columbia Records, Aretha had come into her own at Atlantic beginning with 1967’s No. 2 Pop/No. 1 R&B I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. 1972’s Young, Gifted and Black continued her winning streak, spawning Top 10 singles “Rock Steady” and “Day Dreaming” and earning Aretha a Grammy Award and a No. 11 Pop/No. 2 R&B chart placement. It was natural, then, that Columbia would capitalize on its vaults of Franklin material. In the Beginning: The World of Aretha Franklin 1960-1967 featured a modern-looking Franklin on its cover, but the 2-LP, 20-track set compiled highlights from her Columbia tenure in which she primarily recorded as a blues- and jazz-oriented vocalist. Wounded Bird Records is bringing this vintage title back in print on February 12.
Though the style is much different than her Atlantic work, Franklin positively soars on songs like “Skylark,” “God Bless the Child” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.” She even anticipates her R&B rebirth on tracks such as “Mockingbird,” “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Soulville.” Legacy Recordings released the “last word” on Franklin’s Columbia period with the remarkable 2011 box set Take a Look: Complete on Columbia, but Wounded Bird’s reissue should be a pleasant surprise for those who remember the original 1972 compilation or are discovering Franklin’s pre-Atlantic period for the first time. It’s available in stores on February 12.
On February 5, Concord Records will issue As Time Goes By: Great American Songbook Classics from Tony Bennett. This newly-assembled twelve-track anthology is drawn from Bennett’s recordings on the Improv and Fantasy labels released between 1975 and 1977 and features new liner notes from Will Friedwald, co-author of Bennett’s autobiography The Good Life. The Improv albums have previously been collected on 2004’s The Complete Improv Recordings, and excerpted for releases such as 2011’s The Best of the Improv Recordings and 2012’s Isn’t it Romantic? collection. (Read our review of the latter set here!) This new, budget-priced offering (at the time of this writing, it can be yours for less than five bucks) includes standards from the pens of Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. Bennett is joined by piano great Bill Evans on “Maybe September,” “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Some Other Time.” Joe Tarantino has remastered all songs. In his notes, Will Friedwald writes, “When you say ‘Great American Songbook’ to almost anyone, they know exactly what you mean: the specific canon of songs, mostly written for Broadway shows between the two world wars, largely composed by Jewish immigrants and African-Americans with names like Gershwin and Ellington. And as the career of Tony Bennett, more than almost any other artist, proves again and again, only the Great American Songbook truly deserves to be called the Great American Songbook.” You’ll know what he means if you’re familiar with the twelve songs on As Time Goes By.
Click on any album title or cover artwork for a link to order each CD!