Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rosemary Clooney: “Sings Songs From Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ (Expanded Edition)” (2014) CD Review

As you’re probably well aware, Christmas is eager to push Halloween out of the way, give a slight nod to Thanksgiving and then get on with its merry, holly jolly business. One thing that means is a whole lot of Christmas albums, most of which will be awful. There are exceptions, of course. Rosemary Clooney’s Sings Songs From Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is an obvious exception, and the new expanded edition includes seven bonus tracks. Interestingly, it’s the bonus tracks that make this a Christmas album. Of the original eight tracks, only two are really Christmas songs: the title track and “Snow.” All of the original tunes were written by Irving Berlin.

In addition to the bonus tracks, most of which were previously unreleased, this expanded edition has extensive liner notes explaining why there was no proper soundtrack to White Christmas, and giving some background on Rosemary Clooney’s career. The liner notes also include some photos.

The album opens with the title track, and Rosemary Clooney’s rendition of this classic song is gorgeous. It features the addition of sleigh bells coming in just before the lyrics mentions them. This version also has strings. When that swell occurs in the instrumental section, the song takes on another level of beauty.

Rosemary Clooney clearly has some fun with “Mandy,” turning in a joyful, playful version. Her version has more of a 1940s band feel to it than does Bing Crosby’s rendition, which has kind of a groovy jazz feel. She also does a lively version of “Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army.” In the film version, there are four vocalists, two men and two women, and when the women come in, it’s a surprise. Obviously here that’s not the case. She does have a male vocal group backing her, and they come in later. This version embraces the song’s inherent silliness, and gives a direct nod to Crosby himself in the line, “Crosby, Hope and Jolson all for free” (instead of the original “Jolson, Hope and Benny all for free”).

But one of the real highlights is “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” a song Rosemary Clooney performed in the film. It has a sexy jazzy base, then a beautiful string arrangement over it, which never becomes overpowering, for it is Rosemary’s voice that is the star here. What a vocal performance she delivers on this track. Listen to the way she holds onto “wrong” toward the end in the lines “As they say in the song/You done me wrong.” This is a wonderful recording.

Another highlight is the duet “Sisters,” because unlike the film version, this one Rosemary actually performs with her sister, Betty Clooney. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Those who've seen us/Know that not a thing can come between us/Many men have tried to split us up, but no one can/Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister/And lord help the sister who comes between me and my man.” And those lines are followed by a very cool instrumental section, much livelier than that in the film version.

Bonus Tracks

As I mentioned, it is the bonus tracks that make this really a Christmas album. Her choices are mostly good ones (apart from “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”). These tracks are from the Bing Crosby archives, and most of them were previously unissued on CD or vinyl.

The first, “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” was recorded in 1953, and features The John Scott Trotter Orchestra. It’s a sweet and gentle recording. “Home For The Holidays,” “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” were all recorded in December of 1955, with Buddy Cole & His Trio backing Rosemary. The best of this bunch is her bright, jazzy rendition of “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” written by Irving Berlin. She also does a nice rendition of Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song.”

The album concludes with Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby’s duet of “Silver Bells” from 1952. This is a somewhat playful version.

CD Track List

  1. White Christmas
  2. Mandy
  3. Snow
  4. Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army
  5. Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me
  6. Sisters
  7. The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing
  8. Count Your Blessings Instead Of Sheep
  9. Happy Christmas, Little Friend
  10. Home For The Holidays
  11. Jingle Bells
  12. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  13. The Christmas Song
  14. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
  15. Silver Bells

This special expanded edition of Sings Songs From Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

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