Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Music Review: Rosemary Clooney-- On the Air

By “showing up day after day,”
Rosemary Clooney left a legacy
of remarkable recordings including this one.


As she sings in the eighteenth and final track — "I Get a Kick Out of You" -- in this remarkable collection from Acrobat Music, Rosemary Clooney opens with the lyrics, “My story is much too sad to be told.” Little did listeners tuning into these radio broadcasts realize that when it came to that particular phrase, she may as well have been referencing herself. And this is precisely because from her very first recording Rosemary Clooney possessed that innate gift that few singers have. Namely, she managed to find the heart of each unique song while interpreting the lyrics completely in the character of the piece.

While by now it’s become nearly a prerequisite for jazz musicians and vocalists to have dealt with enormous personal tragedy, as so many of the giants of that era are no longer with us, when you even glance at the shortest of summaries about the life of Ms. Rosemary Clooney: “Girl Singer” as she so dubbed herself in her 1999 autobiography (adding to her original 1977 memoir This for Remembrance), you realize that she overcame many, many more than her fair share.

Right from the start, Clooney survived an immensely difficult childhood of abandonment by both her dress-maker mother, who fled to California with Clooney’s brother to marry a sailor, and her alcoholic father, who took the household money and vanished one evening. Fortunately, Rosemary and her sister Betty first earned their big break and enough money to buy their own school lunches in their darkest hour winning “a spot on Cincinnati’s radio station WLW as singers” in 1945. After working alongside bandleader Tony Pastor for a few years, Betty returned to Cincinnati and later Rosemary ventured off to New York City at the tender age of 21. It was there that she ultimately became a recording artist with Columbia Records, striking her first big hit with the song she loathed, “Come-On-a My House.”

It was around this same time, in the early 1950s that Rosemary Clooney became a staple on popular “star-studded variety programs” crafted by radio executives to combat “the growing magnetism of television.” In this extraordinary reissue of some of these vintage recordings that were originally made for radio, we hear a Clooney whom Acrobat Music’s press notes reveal had begun “validating her position among the fine jazz-based vocalists in American music.” While she would later become far more famous for her versions of standards and novelty hits in the same vein as “Come-On-a My House,” including “Botch-a-Me” and “Mambo Italiano,” in this wonderfully diverse release of rare performances, we hear some of Rosemary’s earliest professional recordings as she was still finding her vocal style.

With a natural gift that’s evident right away in such classics as Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow’s “My Old Flame,” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “But Not For Me” from the show Girl Crazy, the wistful and melancholic Clooney gives way to a more polished vibe midway through. Soon she teases us with “If This Isn’t Love,” from Finian’s Rainbow and the Rodgers and Hart song you can float away on, “Manhattan." With that, she warms up with the first of a hat-trick followed up by a great delivery of “You Make Me Feel So Young” and an intriguing maternal sounding take on “All the Pretty Little Horses,” which was recorded years before she gave birth

to the first of five children with husband Jose Ferrer (whom she married and divorced twice).

Later, the album moves into some of her most unabashedly romantic tracks like “I’m Only Ambitious For You,” and the slightly shocking “Thrill Me,” which seems to foreshadow her marriage that took place in 1953. And ending this era of recordings with the sixteenth inclusion, “Too Much Conversation,” it marks a great progression from the sixteen first tracks to the bonus final two. The album ends with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “I Get a Kick Out of You” recorded in 1959 after years of experience as well as personal struggles and battles with addiction found Clooney’s voice sounding far more mature and worldly. In doing so, it was an awesome decision to break popular protocol of only including tracks from one specific and succinct time-period to illustrate the ways that Clooney had changed with more vocal mastery.

Yet the sheer gorgeous arrangements and exceptional nostalgic recording made with accompaniment from the Earl Shelton Orchestra in 1951/2 which as the press release stated, perfectly “captures Rosemary as her star is rising,” is a must-own for devotees of the singer whom the late great Frank Sinatra once called not only “a symbol of good modern American music” but one with that “great talent which exudes warmth and feeling in every song she sings.”

A remarkable woman, she found herself surviving an endless number of personal ups and downs as she stood just a few feet away from her close friend and Presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy when he was assassinated which led to a very public breakdown.

The 1970s found Clooney back on a personal and professional upswing when her good friend Bing Crosby included her in his 50th and final anniversary tour in 1976. While that same year marked her comeback, it also came sadly along with the death of her sister Betty from a brain aneurysm. Rosemary, who was always devoted to her immediate and extended family (including her nephew Mr. George Clooney who lived with his aunt during his own rise to fame) created the Betty Clooney Center in Long Beach, California which was a facility dedicated to “brain-injured young adults,” and one that was the “first of its kind in the U.S.”

The humble woman who said that her accolades were just “for showing up day after day,” later added to the Washington Post that as “the only instrument that’s got the words… I’ve got to be able to get that across,” and the proof is as simple as in listening to any one of her phenomenal recordings, none more so than in some of her earliest served up in this one-of-a-kind collection from Acrobat Music Inc. releasing on 10/21.

So while in the end she sang that her story was one that was far “too sad to be told,” perhaps her greatest testament not only with regard to her loyalty to family and friends was in inhabiting the characters of so many songs. And in the same token, by inviting us to share in her interpretations as she honored all kinds of individuals whose stories should be told including her own and honored us at the same time — both in celebration of her listeners and in “showing up day after day.”

Track List

1) “This Can’t Be Love”

2) “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”

3) “My Old Flame”

4) “But Not For Me”

5) “Our Love Affair”

6) “If This Isn’t Love”

7) “Shine”

8) “Manhattan”

9) “You Make Me Feel So Young”

10) “All The Pretty Little Horses”

11) “As Long As I Live”

12) “I’ll Never Forget You”

13) “I’m Only Ambitious For You”

14) “Love And Nuts And Noodles”

15) “Thrill Me”

16) “Too Much Conversation”

17) “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”

18) “I Get A Kick Out of You”

Best Buy Co, Inc.