Clooney Tunes [DRG 19062]
DRG, which has favored us with first-time-on-CD reissues of a fair number of original cast albums from the Columbia archives, has also rescued numerous soundtracks and personality albums from oblivion. Recent releases include juvenile albums for "the child in all of us." While these albums might seem somewhat out of our province, Clooney Tunes is far too enjoyable to file away after a perfunctory listening.
The 12 Clooney tracks, which make up about half of the 74-minute CD, were issued as singles in the early fifties (and compiled as an LP in 1957). The songs are mostly kid's stuff, with Clooney singing about teddy bears, whistling giraffes, little red monkeys, kitty cats and even ice-cream men. (This was the fifties, with not a beluga in sight). There is also a veritable paean to Betsy McCall, a paper doll (apparently) snipped from mom's McCall's Magazine. Talk about product placement.
The "Clooney Tunes" are of the exceedingly friendly variety, with catchy melodies and cheery arrangements. Clooney does a top-notch job, displaying a sunny personality that no doubt connected directly with her audience. While Rosemary went on to bigger and better and more distinguished things, her "Clooney Tunes" should not be overlooked.
The disc is filled out with two other kid-friendly and highly listenable personality albums. "Bongo," a four-side set from 1947, is sung and narrated by Dinah Shore. This was an episode from the Walt Disney animated feature "Fun and Fancy Free." According to the credits, this story of a juggling circus bear, who finds freedom (and a little girl bear named Lulubelle), is based on a story by Sinclair Lewis! At any rate, Shore demonstrates an extremely friendly, honey-dipped persona with a bit of julep. "Bongo" can be recommended, despite a song that tells us that when bears are in love, they "Say it with a Slap."
The disc is rounded out with something different; very different. Victor Borge narrates "Piccolo, Saxie and Company," which falls somewhere between Peter and the Wolf and Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. This 25-minute story-with-music is no less than a kid's-ear tour of the symphony orchestra, with each instrument encircled in its own little spotlight. (The music is by Andre Popp, the French composer who favored us with those flavorful orchestrations for Irma la Douce.) Given the lack of music education in today's public schools, "Piccolo, Saxie and Company"is positively instructive, making the collection called "Clooney Tunes" a treat.
JULIE WILSON IN LONDON with Friends [Sepia 1029]
It had not been my intention to review yet another of these British compilations of early 1950s musical so soon, having discussed other such CDs recently. But "Julie Wilson in London" demonstrates a point.
The London cast recording of Kiss Me, Kate, in which the Omaha-born Wilson made a splash at the Coliseum in 1951, is the ostensible feature of this disc. And it's a fairly good set, although it doesn't quite supplant the Broadway album of Cole Porter's 1948 musical. Bill Johnson isn't Alfred Drake, perhaps, but he does very well as Fred/Petruchio. (Let it be added, at the outset, that Sepia's release — which doesn't have the masters to work with — are considerably lower fidelity than the state-of-the-art 1998 Sony reremastering of the show.) Patricia Morison reprises her role as Lili/Kate, and she seems even more fiery than on the Broadway set. Wilson is very good indeed as Lois/Bianca, getting every ounce of oomph from the two big numbers Porter provided, "Why Can't You Behave?" and "Always True to You in My Fashion."
The Kiss Me, Kate selections number ten, as opposed to eighteen on the Broadway album; the Bill Calhoun of Walter Long is missing entirely. But despite the relative brevity, and the low fidelity, the Sepia release gives us another chance to hear the show with its original, strong orchestrations. These are attributed to Russell Bennett, although Don Walker did six of the major numbers (including "Another Op'nin'" and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led?"), and it appears that Hans Spialek lent a hand as well.
The Sepia CD also includes a four-sided, 11-song pop medley from Guys and Dolls, with Wilson singing the Adelaide songs. These are arranged and conducted by Wally Stott and don't especially add to our appreciation of Guys and Dolls.
But "Julie Wilson in London" also includes the original cast recording of something called Bet Your Life. This was a West End entry about a jockey — bet your life, get it — that had a ten-month run back in 1952. Arthur Askey starred, with music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith and Charles Zwar and lyrics by Alan Melville. This is not the sort of show that American listeners might automatically grab off the record rack; I never heard of it, certainly, and the credits do not make it sound all that promising. But here it is, and it is a delightful surprise.
Wilson is the reason that this cast album has been rescued, and she is suitably sassy. The songs are not all that distinguished, mind you, but they are great fun. "Eat Drink and Be Merry," from Askey and Wilson, is rambunctious, even if the lyrics are slightly askew. ("Live" is rhymed with "Aviv," as in Tel Aviv.) "I Love Being in Love" is a sprightly waltz with the feeling of The Pajama Game's "I'm Not at All in Love." "Now Is the Moment," a wedding-night song, appears to be a terribly earnest ballad until rescued by a snappy countermelody. "All on Account of a Guy" is in the "Take Him" vein, with a considerable lift provided by Ms. Wilson and the young Sally Ann Howes. (Howes's other track from the Bet Your Life cast recording, "I Love Him As He Is," was included on Sepia's Wish You Were Here/Paint Your Wagon CD and is thus omitted here.) Wilson also has what I imagine was a show-stopper, the not-so-subtly titled "I Want a Great Big Hunk of Male." I never saw the show, needless to say, and I don't ever expect to; but the score seems to be more or less in the same vein as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Good-natured entertainment, fun performances, clever lyrics (for the most part). The slightly different take on Kiss Me, Kate makes "Julie Wilson in London" worth listening, but the Bet Your Life tracks are the ones that I've been replaying again and again.
—Steven Suskin, author of the "Broadway Yearbook" series, "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached by e-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com.