Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bing Crosby in the Hall (Sepia, 2013)

Today I am republishing here a review of the excellent Sepia CD Bing Crosby in the Hall that I wrote for the Amazon.com website and originally published here upon the CD's release. At the end of the piece I called for more releases like this one, and it looks like some record companies must have been listening (or so I like to think...) because three more compilations of tracks from Crosby's radio shows are slated to be issued in November. Hopefully they will be as interesting as this one from Sepia!

TRACKS: Josephine / Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon / One Song / The Umbrella Man / Penny Serenade / I Get Along without You Very Well / Honolulu / You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven / I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now / Scatter-Brain / Looking at the World through Rose-Colored Glasses / (Back Home Again in) Indiana / I Thought about You / Ma! (She's Making Eyes at Me) / Angel in Disguise / Let's Be Buddies / Because of You / Everything Happens to Me / I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time / You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to / Hit the Road to Dreamland / I've Got Sixpence / How Sweet You Are / The Surrey with the Fringe on Top / Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week) / Magic Is the Moonlight / My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time / It Might as Well Be Spring / Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief / G'Bye Now.

Connee Boswell sang with Bing on the KMH
It was with a great deal of excitement that I recently received this new Sepia release from the International Club Crosby, to which I have belonged for a while now. To any Crosby fan, this is a very attractive release, since it includes 30 rare recordings from Bing's legendary Kraft Music Hall radio show. Crosby hosted the program between 1936 and 1946, and during his ten-year tenure, his voice and personality turned it into the most popular show in the nation. The show itself was based on a then revolutionary concept: music interspersed with comic banter and skits, with different celebrity guests every week. It was the perfect setting for Bing's laid-back persona and easy, almost nonchalant approach to the vocal art. The Kraft Music Hall turned Bing Crosby into one of the most successful radio stars of the 1930s and 1940s.

Besides his own recordings, Bing usually performed the popular songs of the day and old evergreens on the Kraft show, and the producers of this excellent CD have had the good sense to offer tunes that Crosby, despite his mammoth recorded legacy, never cut commercially. Gently and ably backed by a studio orchestra conducted by his longtime associate John Scott Trotter, Bing delivers each number in his own personal way, each track showing how perfect his warm baritone was for the medium of radio. On the Kraft Music Hall, Bing was often given vocal support by groups such as the Music Maids and the Charioteers, and over the years, he had outstanding duet partners by the likes of Connee Boswell, Eugenie Baird, Mary Martin, and Marilyn Maxwell, to name but a few. In my opinion, Boswell, a fine solo singer as well as a successful recording artist with the Boswell Sisters, was one of Bing's best duet partners, and she is featured on several tracks on this CD, notably on a delightful version of Matt Dennis's "Everything Happens to Me," which in this case includes some very funny specialty lyrics.

Inevitably, some of the material that Bing sang on the Kraft show was not up to the high standards of his own talent, but he never fails to put across even weak songs such as Kay Kyser's "The Umbrella Man." It is hard for me to name favorites on this CD, since every track is interesting for different reasons, and Bing's interpretations are always appealing, whether he be singing a ballad or an uptempo number. However, highlights of this compilation definitely include "I Get Along Without You Very Well" (written by Hoagy Carmichael), "I Thought About You" (a classic from the pen of Johnny Mercer), the old favorite "Looking at the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses," "Indiana," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" (written by Cole Porter), and a wistful version of "It Might as Well Be Spring." Incidentally, this radio version of Mercer's "I Thought about You" certainly rivals Frank Sinatra's classic rendition on his Songs for Swingin' Lovers album. Crosby also tackles Sinatra's early hit "Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)" with conviction and turns in lovely readings of "Because of You" (which would become a big hit for Tony Bennett in 1951), Cole Porter's "Let's Be Buddies" (in a duet with Connee Boswell), Gene Autry's gentle country ballad "You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven," and Irving Berlin's rather obscure early composition "Call Me Up Some Rainly Afternoon."

An ad for the Kraft Music Hall radio show

The excellent British label Sepia has collaborated closely with the International Club Crosby for this release, and the illustrated booklet that accompanies the CD includes well-written, informative liner notes by Malcolm Macfarlane, editor of Bing Magazine, complete with a brief discussion of each of the tracks. Considering the age of these recordings, preserved on 10- and 12-inch acetates stored in John Scott Trotter's cellar and later transferred to tape, the sound quality of the CD is magnificent and has been efficiently restored. This is yet another oustanding Crosby release from Sepia that will definitely make Bing fans like me very happy. Hopefully it will sell well enough that the label will decide to turn 'Bing in the Hall' into a full-blown series like their Through The Years batch of releases. There certainly is enough material to grant such a series, and we would all benefit from it.

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