Ruth Etting: America’s Sweetheart Of Song - Her 51 Finest, 1927-37
Various accompanists
RETROSPECTIVE RTS4283 [78:21 + 77:47]

Ruth Etting, one of the so-called Torch Singers of the 1920s and 30s, was fortunate to have been taken up by Chicago radio stations, who broadcast her performances way beyond the city’s boundaries. A recording contract with Columbia soon followed and thus the steady stream of 78s by which she is remembered today.

Her early studio piano accompanist was Rube Bloom with whom she recorded the song that became her signature tune and inevitably gives its name to the title of this twofer from Retrospective. More often than not anonymous studio musicians filled in with accompaniments, though they were at the very least highly proficient – some may well have been well-known – though her backing varies from stripped back (piano and violin, piano and accordion) to bands such as the one led by Ted Lewis. In these early days hers was still very much a tweetie-pie kind of voice, a rather gauche soubrette but with insight into lyrics and a superior ear for pitch. Clearly Columbia was in something of a quandary as to what kind of singer it had on its books as it continued to give her ever-stranger accompaniments during the later 1920s – vibraphone, steel guitar, fiddle and cello as well as a contingent cut from New York’s finest, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang et al.

The songs she sang are now largely classics though they were hot off the press when she sang them – More Than You Know, for example, which she recorded with an unknown violinist, pianist and steel guitarist, shortly after the show from which it comes, Great Day, was premiered. Broadly speaking, the more jazz-orientated the accompaniment the better the results. By mid-1930 something seems to have changed stylistically. Gone is the winsome, flapper era singer, all cutesy and knowing, and in comes a far more impressive artist. She sings one great classic after another in the second disc. The style is now more involved, the voice warmer and rounder and the effect more immediate and compelling. With small orchestras backing her and arrangements that are perfectly serviceable – if seldom truly much more - she produces one marvelous success after another. People always talk of the influence of Bing Crosby on Al Bowlly but surely Ruth Etting influenced him too – in terms of song selection, phrasing and mood. You’ll even find a couple of sides made in London in 1936 in which she’s accompanied by Jay Wilbur’s band.

This excellent selection has been chosen cannily and Greg Gormick’s notes are fine. I prefer transfers that are more open and retain greater surface noise but I suspect the majority will prefer these more compressed affairs.

Jonathan Woolf
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Track listing
CD1 (1926-1929)
1 Love Me Or Leave Me
2 Lonesome And Sorry
3 But I Do, You Know I Do!
4 ’Deed I Do
5 What Do We Do On A Dew-Dew-Dewy Day
6 It All Depends On You
7 I’m Nobody’s Baby
8 Sam, The Old Accordion Man
9 Shaking The Blues Away
10 The Song Is Ended, But The Melody Lingers On
11 Keep Sweeping The Cobwebs Off The Moon
12 Back In Your Own Back Yard
13 When You’re With Somebody Else
14 Ramona
15 Happy Days And Lonely Nights
16 Because My Baby Don’t Mean Maybe Now
17 Beloved
18 Sonny Boy
19 My Blackbirds Are Bluebirds Now
20 You’re The Cream In My Coffee
21 I’ll Get By As Long As I Have You
22 Button Up Your Overcoat
23 Mean To Me
24 More Than You Know
25 Cryin’ For The Carolines
Bonus Track –
26 Love Me Or Leave Me – By Doris Day (1955)
CD2 (1930-1937)
1 Ten Cents A Dance
2 Funny, Dear, What Love Can Do
3 Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
4 Don’t Tell Him What Happened To Me
5 Just A Little Closer
6 If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight
7 Body And Soul
8 Love Is Like That, What Can You Do?
9 Nevertheless I’m In Love With You
10 Shine On, Harvest Moon
11 Guilty
12 Me!
13 A Faded Summer Love
14 Cuban Love Song
15 It Was So Beautiful
16 I’ll Never Be The Same
17 Linger A Little Longer In The Twilight
18 Close Your Eyes
19 Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
20 Riptide
21 Easy Come, Easy Go
22 Life Is A Song, Let’s Sing It Together
23 You
24 It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie
25 There’s A Lull In My Life
26 Goodnight, Sweetheart