Sea Shanties; Kipling Songs; Songs for Everyone
Leonard Warren (baritone)
Sea Shanties arranged by Tom Scott
Blow the Man Down [2:18]
The Drummer and the Cook [2:17]
Haul-A-Way, Joe [2:55]
The Drunken Sailor [2:38]
A-Rovin' [2:54]
Low Lands [3:25]
Shenandoah [3:43]
Rio Grande [2:42]
Orchestra and chorus/Morris Levine
rec. 8 and 9 July 1947, RCA Victor Studio No.2 NYC
Rolling Down to Rio - songs of Kipling, arrangements by Frank Black
On the Road to Mandalay [3:38]
Rolling Down to Rio (Edward German) [2:16]
Gunga Din (Spross) [5.26]
Recessional (DeKoven) [4:39]
Danny Deever (Damrosch) [5:09]
Boots (McCall) [3:05]
Mother O'Mine (Tours) [2:39]
Smuggler's Song (Kernochan) [3:03]
RCA Victor Orchestra/Frank Black
rec. September 1950, 2 and 5 October 1951, Manhattan Centre, NYC
Songs for Everyone
America the Beautiful (Ward) [3:14]
Love's Old Sweet Song (Molloy) [3:29]
Mother Machree (Olcott) [2:23]
A Little Bit of Heaven (Ball) [3:27]
Home on the Range (Guion) [3:48]
Ol' Man River (from Show Boat) (Kern) [3:30]
Battle Hymn of the Republic (Steffe) [3:39]
rec. September 1950, Manhattan Centre, NYC
RCA Victor Orchestra/Frank Black
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111345 [75:50]

Sometimes a new context causes reflection. In a review of Nimbus’s Warren twofer [NI 7939/40] I concentrated on the operatic side of things rather to the exclusion of the lighter fare on offer in the second disc. That’s not unreasonable; sometimes shanties and Kipling settings seem to speak for themselves, but re-reading the review it now seems to me a somewhat inadequate response. I also think the performances are rather better than I intimated.

So this is a chance to put the record straight at the second time of asking. It arrives via an identical selection in Naxos’s single disc tribute to the great baritone. If you have the Nimbus there is no need to investigate this one; the transfer differences are not so extensive that it warrants it. And so this disc is aimed at the admirer of Warren in more nautical, national and popular mood, aided by choruses and orchestras in recordings made between 1947 and 1951.

The Nimbus disc claims that the Shanty selection is with the Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra under Shaw but Naxos confidently ascribes the arrangements to Tom Scott and the accompaniment to anonymous forces directed by Morris Levine. I’m not sure on what authority Nimbus claims Shaw for these sessions – though he did do a lot of similar work at the time – but unless otherwise contradicted it’s Levine at the helm.

Scott’s orchestration has plenty of piquancies, not least in Blow the Man Down where Warren is sonorous but not at all awkwardly operatic. He knew how to relax into the demotic very nicely and there’s no feeling of condescension or fake bonhomie. He does ‘the voices’ nicely in The Drummer and the Cook even though the chorus here is overly polite. Hard to resist him when he essays Haul-A-Way, Joe and the all-American relish in his delivery of the lines ‘Now I got a Yankee gal/And she is just a daisy’. The saucy wind writing of The Drunken Sailor is suitably pert, and the choral basses dig deep for Low Lands. Even so Shenandoah is the pick of this bunch – absolutely beautiful.

Frank Black arranged the Kipling songs and some are very well known in their original form. Some have also, it’s true, been out sung or out-performed stylistically over the years but if one ignores the competitive element one can simply enjoy and relish what we have. The Edward German song for instance has brio, and Spross’s setting of Gunga Din has a bucket load of melodrama. Of the settings here Danny Deever is probably the best known and this is surely the greatest performance of it; Walter Damrosch’s setting brings out the valid scena quality of the writing, and Warren responds with unmatched vehemence and power. I’ve heard a fair few performances of the song and almost all shrivel up and slink off after this one. He treads Peter Dawson territory in Boots but evokes the madness of it more than the Australian.

The final selection is entitled Songs for Everyone. Naturally Americana ranks high, but there are also intimations and echoes of McCormack in Warren’s brogueish singing of Mother Machree. It’s good to hear him sing that much maligned old salon favourite Love's Old Sweet Song, but even better to hear the incantatory and buttonholing splendour of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

So it was good to get a second chance with Warren in lighter form. If you fancy the repertoire you’ll be assured of marvellous singing, occasionally fanciful arrangements but above all a fantastically communicative series of three recitals.

Jonathan Woolf

Fantastically communicative… see Full Review