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Concentratin’ On You; her 51 finest, 1931-59

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4384 [77:38 + 77:38]


CD 1 (1931-1939)
1. Concentratin’ On You
2. Time On My Hands
3. Washboard Blues
4. Hummin’ To Myself
5. Me Minus You
6. It’s The Talk Of The Town
7. The Carioca
8. All I Do Is Dream Of You
9. Lost In A Fog
10. In The Middle Of A Kiss
11. I’ll Never Say “Never Again” Again
12. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love
13. On The Beach At Bali-Bali
14. That Old Feeling
15. Bob White (with Bing Crosby)
16. Basin Street Blues (with Bing Crosby)
17. Martha (Ah, So Pure!)
18. You Forgot To Remember
19. Home On The Range
20. I Hadn’t Anyone Till You
21. Gypsy Love Song
22. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
23. Deep In A Dream
24. An Apple For The Teacher (with Bing Crosby)
25. Sunrise Serenade

CD 2 (1939-1959)
1. Between 18th And 19th On Chestnut Street (with Bing Crosby)
2. On The Isle Of May
3. Dinah
4. Yes, Indeed! (with Bing Crosby)
5. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
6. Amapola
7. Sand In My Shoes
8. Look For The Silver Lining
9. Stormy Weather
10. One Dozen Roses
11. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
12. Ole Buttermilk Sky
13. My Little Nest Of Heavenly Blue
14. That’s A Plenty (with Bing Crosby)
15. If I Give My Heart To You
16. When My Sugar Walks Down The Street
17. Say It Isn’t So
18. When The Saints Go Marching In
19. Make Love To Me (Tin Roof Blues)
20. Blue Skies
21. Always
22. Cheek To Cheek
23. My Funny Valentine
24. I Could Write A Book
25. Where Or When
26. I’m Gonna Cry (Crying Blues)

Whether solo, or with her sisters, Connee Boswell remained an influential singer for around three decades (the sisters’ recordings can be found on RTS4384 – see review ). She was certainly the major influence on the young Ella Fitzgerald, as Fitzgerald was honest enough freely to admit, and the reasons for that are plain to hear during the course of this twofer which traces her career as a solo artist from 1931 to 1959.

Her easy lyricism was accompanied by the leading bands of the time in which sidemen numbered such as the Dorseys, Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, Bunny Berigan, Bob Crosby and his confreres and many more, notably in the pre-war sides. Quite often the piano chair was held by her sister Martha, a formidable player as well as singer.

There is much to admire and enjoy in these two well-filled discs. I was taken by the extended five-minute recording of Washboard Blues with Glenn Gray and his Casa Loma orchestra, a song that suites her temperament and geographical place of birth very nicely (she was from the South). It’s The Talk Of The Town is taken as a slow romantic ballad, though the lyrics tell of a man leaving a woman, and by this time her popularity had crossed the Atlantic so it’s no surprise to hear her recording in London in 1935 with the Rolls Royce of British dance bands, that of Ambrose. Another Euro souvenir comes in the next track, made in Holland with The Ramblers, a fine version of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.

She made quite a number of recordings with Bing Crosby and the brace of Bob White and Basin Street Blues is especially good. Back in the engine room the drummer is Spike Jones and there’s the Bixian cornet of Andy Secrest to beguile the ear. There’s an example of that well-used vogue, Jazzin’ the Classics, in the shape of the appropriation of Flotow’s Martha which was coupled with Home on the Range; both were with Bob Crosby and formed a strange but eventful 78. Bob Crosby did the same for Victor Herbert too in the Gypsy Love Song whilst Victor Young chipped in later with On the Isle of May, which is Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile from his string quartet.

CD2 takes things from 1939 to 1959. I’m always happy to encounter Muggsy Spanier, not least when he plays with the mute, as he does on Yes, Indeed! – with Der Bingle again - a speciality he’d learned at the feet of King Oliver in Chicago. But there’s a genuinely lovely arrangement and performance – Connee Boswell sings entrancingly – on Smoke Gets in Your Eyes with an anonymous studio orchestra in 1941. Boswell had the gift of being able to summon up emotional drama, as she does in Stormy Weather, and was a perfect conduit for the music of fellow southerner Hoagy Carmichael – give a listen to her ease of execution of his Ole Buttermilk Sky; laconic, conversational and stylistically apt rolled into one.

Very different is the allusive accompaniment on Blue Skies, Always and Cheek to Cheek. This was provided by Warren Vincent’s orchestra with a startling personnel line up of trumpet, four trombones, standard rhythm section (including Mundell Lowe, George Duvivier and George Wettling) along with six strings. This came out on a Design LP and Vincent’s arrangements are intriguing and forward-looking. This session certainly shows what Boswell could do, as indeed does the back-to-the 20s sound of Jimmy Lytell and The Original Memphis Five – resurrected with Billy Butterfield taking on the trumpet role and Miff Mole, Frank Signorelli and Tony Sbarbaro doing their old-time thing on some standards.

Finally, we go back to the beginning with a late acoustic from March 1925 called I’m Gonna Cry in which Connee is accompanied by just Martha. It was Connee’s first recording and shows her in thrall to the Classic Blues Singers of the time.

Ray Crick’s booklet notes are apt and pertinent and the transfers are really good. Add this to the Sisters album and you have a competitive slice of classic Boswell vocalism on disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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