ALBUM REVIEW: Steve Lawrence, Winners!

Artist: Steve Lawrence     Album: Winners!

I adore Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Every album they made as a duo or as solo artists I can spin continuously. There is a carefree, genuine love that comes with their albums made together and their solo vocal chops are equally golden.

Steve LawrenceOne of my favorite albums out of Steve Lawrence’s catalog is his 1962 album Winners! This record contains the number one hit single “Go Away Little Girl,” co-written by a then unknown Carole King.  Bobby Vee originally recorded this song earlier in 1962.

Winners! is an album of cover songs. The idea behind the album was to find previous song “winners” and let Lawrence give them his golden take. Listening to this album one would never guess that Lawrence was covering other’s songs because he makes each song his own.

The album starts with “Cotton Fields,” which was originally recorded by Huddie Ledbetter in 1940. This is a quick audience grabber as Lawrence’s vocals swoon over this folk classic. Later he goes into Connie Francis’ smash hit, “Who’s Sorry Now?” This is one of the high points of the album. He takes this song and turns it completely on its head. His vocals are confident and crisp, and all but resist the stinging tone of an “I told you so.” Lawrence’s vocals have class and debonair wrapped into one.

The second side of this album contains “Go Away Little Girl,” but the treasures on this side are Lawrence’s covers of Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Jack Jones. I would think it would be a bold move for Lawrence to cover his contemporaries songs, but the orignal artist names don’t even cross your mind when listening to his versions.

Lawrence’s smooth vocals gently caress “All The Way,” while he portrays determination to never give up on the one he loves. His rendition of “Moon River” starts out with the conventional beginning, but he ends it with a big band. Lastly, he covers one of my personal favorites, “Lollipops and Roses.” He again is backed by a big band and he gives this song a less vulnerable feel then the original, portraying faith and confidence in his romantic tactics.

Steve LawrenceBesides the fact that I like this album, it is special to me for other reasons. I sent my album cover with a writing I did over an album Steve and Eydie made to an address I found for Lawrence. It was a shot in the dark, but I wanted to try to get his autograph. It wasn’t much more than a week later he sent it back to me with the inscription

“To Gabe, Thanks for all the wonderful things you said about me and Eydie. All the best to you. Fondly, Steve Lawrence.”

This album holds a special spot on my shelf, for both its recordings and the special inscription Lawrence sent to me. As a vocalist myself I consider him one of my models. As a writer I could not be more thrilled that he actually read my post over him and his late wife Eydie Gormé.

Lawrence is just a class act and his vocal cords are plated in gold.

Key Tracks: “Go Away Little Girl,” “Kansas City,” “It’s Not For Me To Say”

Deep Cuts: “All The Way,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Teach Me Tonight”

ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Rydell, The Great Ones

Before there was tween boy bands, glee clubs, and Justin Bieber there was Bobby Rydell.  To be honest there really isn’t much of a comparison, but that puts him in modern language.

I stumbled upon Rydell on YouTube. I was searching the song “My Coloring Book” and he was the only male version of the song I could find. This is one of my favorite songs and Rydell’s version is often overlooked, but it is one of the best. After this encounter I immediately began searching for his records at all my vinyl stops.

FullSizeRender 7One of my first finds was Bobby Rydell…Salutes The “Great Ones.” Rydell was only 19  years old when he released this album. As the liner notes state, he was already a staple on such TV shows as the Perry Como TV shows and Red Skeleton shows as well as a sought after act at The Copa and The Sahara. Not to mention he had already garnered 4 top ten hits.

This album by Rydell takes an interesting turn in his small yet accomplished catalog. Saluting the greats that came before you is not just honorable, but it is quite daring. He was setting himself up for failure. He was singing songs that only the greats, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland sang with Broadway standards sprinkled in. How could he compare?

Rydell decided to play by his own rules, translating these songs into a “1961” vibe.

He opens the album with Al Jolson’s “Mammy.” A song that has been adapted in many different compositions. This is essentially a melted down version of “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” He gives this song a boyish charm with a more modest aura.

He then goes into Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic.” There is never another Sinatra, but Rydell again accomplishes this song with ease accompanied by a more rhythmic backing. He concludes side A with the Gypsy anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Taking on Ethel Merman is like teetering off a cliff, but he did it with debonair and classic charm instead of Merman’s usually brashness.

FullSizeRender 6Side B contains some real gems starting with the Steve Allen penned “This Could Be The Start of Something New.” Again, Rydell’s arrangers placed the song at a speeder tempo. Instead of the gentler and special aura that only Ella Fitzgerald could give this song, Rydell gives this tune a remix worthy of American Bandstand or Shindig. The same concept can be found in his renditions of “So Rare” and “There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”

By the end of the album, Rydell easily wrapped all the ladies around his finger with “The Birth of The Blues.” This song demands answers with its perfectly timed pauses and the way Rydell places the lyrics in a “questionable” phrase. I think there were a few girls fainting at the foot of the stage.

This album is a perfect reflection of what was happening in music culture in 1961. Rockabilly was starting to hit and all the churches were worried about this new “rhythmic” music. The classic pop style of the greats was being placed on the back burner for this new rock and roll experiment.

Rydell attempts to touch both these audiences with this album. His crooning singing style fit in perfectly with the Dean Martins and Jack Jones’ of the time, yet he knew there was something else on the horizon. Although this album may not have been a huge success it is reflection of the development of music and the confusion that both artists and record companies were going through in this transitional time.

This album proposes an idea. It was experimental at the time when experiments were shunned. Rydell’s album not only serves as listening pleasure, but as an artifact of the evolution of modern music. Basically he gave the Great American Songbook and a light, but daring, Rockabilly twist.

ALBUM REVIEW: Jack Jones, Lollipops and Roses

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Jones with Judy Garland, a young Liza Minnelli, and family

Back when I was a mere age of 4, maybe 5, Christmas came as it often does every year. At one time there was this thing called Nick at Night where they actually showed old shows from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Keeping with its then tradition, they showed the older variety show’s Christmas specials.

For some reason or another, my parents decided to record The Judy Garland Christmas Special. I’ve watched it nearly every year since. I’m not particularly sure why they recorded it, neither one of them are huge Garland fans, but young me was already regressing in age taking a liking to the music of yesterday. Beside the fact that this Christmas show boasted the talents of Judy Garland and a young Liza Minnelli, Jack Jones guest starred to sing his then hit “Lollipops and Roses” and a melody of Christmas hits with both Garland and Minnelli.

4706924016_53b6a45b73_zIf that is what it took to sing with the likes of Judy and Liza, I had to become that. I had to be just like Jack Jones.

Well I’m a lot older now, never grew past 5’6′, and always seem to carry a few extra pounds on me. I’ve been singing here and there, but it’s clear my goal of becoming Jack Jones never came true. Nonetheless, he has been a role model for my singing and performing.

I acquired his second album and what I believe to be his first record for Kapp records, Lollipops and Roses. Jones released the title track when he was 24. This album was Jones introducing himself to the world of music and it was happy to have him.

This album opens with “This Was My Love.” A ballad that proved his voice was as strong as a stone, but as soft as velvet. He goes on to sing his Grammy winning “Lollipops and Roses” and a flowing, yet capitvating, rendition of “Moonlight Becomes You.”

MI0001412566Flip the album, and you find songs of equal proportion. He gives one of the best performances of “Love Letters” and a haunting version of “Julie.” My personal favorite from this side is “The Girl Next Door,” a cover of Judy Garland’s “The Boy Next Door” from the musical Meet Me in St. Louis.

On his first album, he was already singing songs by the best artists of all-time, as well as singing songs that would someday be sung by equally legendary artists in their time. This proves Jones’ legacy and cements his name in the history of music.

Jones still sings to sold out crowds around the globe. I recently went to his website to inquire about getting my album signed. That evening I received an email saying that he would be more then happy and to what address I should send it. It was barely a week after I sent it, that I received it back in the mail along with some of his new CD’s. I was flabergasted at the gesture and the CD’s further prove that this legend is far from over. Receiving this pacakge from Jones and his wife was one of the highlights of my collecting and musical adventure.

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Jones today

So as I sit and just listen to this classic album that first brought Jones into the spotlight, I am reminded of a ribbon. A ribbon that flows gently in the wind with a gust every now and then, but always consistent. One can always count on Jones for a keen deliverance of song, keeping every note in place, yet never ignoring a single emotion. I only hope to sing like that.

Man, now I really want to be Jack Jones. Think he gives lessons?