Lisbon Antigua by Nelson Riddle

December 24, 2012

Nelson Riddle, 1921-1985, had several phases to his career. Today he is best remembered for his musical relationship with Linda Ronstandt and the three popular big band albums she released during the early 1980s. He served as a producer and arranger for a number of artists, most notably Frank Sinatra. He also had a successful recording career as well, selling tens of millions of records.

He had the number one single in the United States during 1986. Riddle scored the film “Lisbon” starring Ray Miland and Maureen O’Hara and used the song “Lisbon Antigua” in the film. Released as a single it topped the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Best Sellers In Store Chart for four weeks beginning 2/25/56 and the Most Played By Disc Jockeys Chart for one week. It peaked at number two on the Most Played In Jukeboxes Chart and Top 100 Chart.

The flip side of the single was “Robin Hood,” which was an entirely different story altogether.

Batman Theme 45 by Nelson Riddle

July 30, 2012

There were a number of 45’s of the BATMAN THEME released during the 1960s and one of the most obscure was by orchestra leader Nelson Riddle.

Nelson Riddle, 1921-1985, was an orchestra leader/arranger who worked with such artists as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Linda Ronstadt. He only had five singles reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart with his biggest hit being the 1955 release Lisbon Antigua.

He release of the “Batman Theme” did not chart but it remains one of the most collectable nearly 50 years later.

The Concert Sinatra (Remastered and Expanded) by Frank Sinatra

February 21, 2012

The Concord Music Group and the Sinatra Family have been re-releasing the Reprise Label Frank Sinatra catalogue in recent years. The latest entry is his 1963 album, The Concert Sinatra, which now returns in a pristine, remastered form.

The title is somewhat misleading as it refers to a concept rather than an actual concert album. Arranger and conductor Nelson Riddle gathered a large orchestra in the recording studio in order to create a concert sound and experience. While his flourishes on a number of the songs were a bit much, it remains one of the strongest and most pleasurable albums of Sinatra’s career.

The original album contained only eight tracks, four of which were co-written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Two more were composed by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Most are show tunes that formed the core of many of Sinatra’s albums during the 1960s. He was above all an interpreter of songs, and this type of material was made for him.

While the record produced no hit singles, “I Have Dreamed” was probably the most popular track at the time of its release. It was from 1951’s The King And I, and Sinatra gets the phrasing just right with a swinging performance.

Sinatra had worked as a conductor for Peggy Lee during 1957 and one of the songs they recorded together was “My Heart Stood Still.” Here, he records his own version that builds slowly as the tempo and vocals increase throughout.

“Lost In The Stars” was the title song of a 1949 Broadway musical and it was a fine example of Riddle’s arranging ability that made clear why Sinatra returned to him again and again.

Two songs from the Great American Songbook form the center of the album. “Ol’ Man River” remains the album’s most sophisticated track, as he gets the phrasing and tone perfectly. Sinatra recorded “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in 1945 and then didn’t sing the song again for 18 years. He re-interprets it here as a type of lullaby with an emotional performance.

“Bewitched” was from the early 1940s musical Pal Joey, and Sinatra gave it a breezy interpretation on this album. “This Nearly Was Mine” featured his voicing recorded within the orchestration, and “Soliloquy” was a rambling eight-minute track that remained a part of his stage act until the end of his life.

Two bonus tracks appear on the release. In late 1962, Governor Pat Brown asked Sinatra to create a new song for the state of California. He approached songwriters James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and the result was “California.” It was recorded during the session for the album but pulled from the song line-up at the last minute. It was distributed to attendees at a state function as a limited 45 rpm single with a special cover. Now, it returns to the album for which it was recorded.

His version of “America The Beautiful” was recorded at about the same time and while it was a spectacular rendition, the second chorus with a 24-voice choir makes it a little out of place.

The Concert Sinatra remains an essential listen for any fan of the chairman of the board or popular music. It’s nice to have the album back in circulation.

Article first published as Music Review: Frank Sinatra – The Concert Sinatra [Remastered and Expanded] on Blogcritics.

For Sentimental Reasons by Linda Ronstadt

March 30, 2010

October of 1986 found a forty-year-old Linda Ronstadt issuing the final album in her trilogy of popular standards. While it would not be as commercially successful as the first two in the series, it would still sell in excess of one million copies.

There was one tragedy during the recording of the album as arranger Nelson Riddle passed away before its completion. Terry Woodson stepped in and arranged the last three tracks.

The album continued the tradition of the previous two releases as it concentrated heavily on pre-World War II traditional standards. By this time Ronstadt had perfected her style of interpreting this type of material. While her vocals retained their pop tone, she was able to move many of the songs over to light jazz.

The album begins with a memorable Disney classic. “When You Wish Upon A Star,” from the 1940 film, Pinocchio, finds her voice floating on top of a smooth arrangement. The phrasing is exact and the tone perfect.

Three songs from musicals written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart appear on the album. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” from 1940’s Pal Joey, the eternal “My Funny Valentine” from 1937’s Babes In Arms, and “Little Girl Blue” from 1935’s Jumbo all show her love for pre-World War II Broadway. The vocals and arrangements are true to the spirit and style of the originals as they slide easily by the senses.

She reaches back to 1929 for “Am I Blue,” which was a big hit for Ethel Waters. Ronstadt’s version moves it in a jazz direction. “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons” is my favorite track. She takes this huge number one hit for Nat King Cole, which has been recorded hundreds of times over, and gives a definitive performance.

She tackles a straight jazz song with “Round Midnight.” Artists such as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and others have made is a classic. And her vocal provides a new dimension for this old war horse.

For Sentimental Reasons closed yet another phase of Linda Ronstadt’s career. These albums remain as a testament to the vocal prowess and versatility of one of the great female artists of American music.

Lush Life by Linda Ronstadt

March 30, 2010

Linda Ronstadt turned 38 in 1984 and was far removed from her folk/rock goddess days. During November she issued Lush Life, which was the second in her trilogy of albums featuring pop and light jazz standards. It would quickly sell over one million copies and earn her a fourteenth platinum record award for sales.

She wisely continued her relationship with arranger/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle whose experience and talent kept her and the project true to the sound and style of the material. For his part, Riddle recruited such musicians as guitarist Bob Mann (who’d go on to play for Rod Stewart in his forays into the same type of material), drummer John Guerin, bassist Bob Magnusson, and pianist Don Grolnick, all of whom were veterans of the big band and lounge scene, making them perfect for this project.

Ronstadt’s choice of material was a little more varied than on 1983’s What’s New. It was a combination of slow and up-tempo plus she went a little further afield, throwing in some Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael material for good measure.

The best tracks primarily come from the American jazz songbook. “Skylark,” written by Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, is a difficult song to sing with the subtle tempo changes plus tone variations which are required to pull it off. Yet she renders one of the better vocal performances of her career on the track. The title song is a jazz standard written by Bill Strayhorn in 1930 and has been recorded by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, and Billy Eckstine among others. Her version strays a little from the original as the vocal pushes it toward a pop/jazz interpretation that makes it unique. “Sophisticated Lady” is a 1930’s jazz classic by Duke Ellington and her take is both creative and excellent. Songs such as these would enable the album to reach the top ten on the jazz album charts in the United States.

“When I Fall In Love” is a pop standard which has been recorded by hundreds of artists from Doris Day to Celine Dion. Very few, however, can claim to have matched Ronstadt’s emotional rendition. “Can We Still Be Friends” travels in a different direction as it is given a light swing interpretation.

Lush Life finds a mature artist confidently in charge of her career. While this release is far removed from the type of music which made Ronstadt a star, its lasting legacy is an album of style and beauty.

What’s New by Linda Ronstadt

March 30, 2010

Linda Ronstadt’s career had already taken one significant turn when she left her pop/folk roots behind and embraced rock ‘n’ roll, especially by including an album of new wave rock. Very few people were prepared, however, for the next period of her career when she made another abrupt turn and issued three consecutive albums of popular standards backed by an orchestra. It would’ve been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when she met with producer Peter Asher and the heads of her record label to explain her plans.

She wisely chose arranger/producer/orchestra leader Nelson Riddle as a partner. His pedigree included fourteen albums with Frank Sinatra, seven with Nat King Cole, five with Ella Fitzgerald plus projects with Dean Martin, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee. Riddle proved to be a perfect match for Ronstadt as their albums together sold millions of copies, reviving his career and helping her expand her fan base.

My only criticism of the album is its shortness as it contains only nine songs and clocks in at less than forty minutes.

As with her pop and rock material, she continued to select songs which were perfect for her voice. Songs by the Gershwins, Sammy Cahn, Irving Berlin, and Gordon Jenkins among others all succumbed to her sophisticated interpretive style.

Her take on the old standard “I’ve Got A Crush On You” is the album’s strongest track. Her voice has power, tone, and smoothness, all of which are just perfect for this traditional standard. Another highlight is a moody rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me.” When you add in “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You,” What’ll I Do,” and “Lover Man,” you have an album of note.

In many ways What’s New helped to return material of this type to the public eye. It remained on the album charts for well over a year and sold three million copies in the United States alone. Linda Ronstadt would travel in a number of musical directions, but her trilogy of standard pop albums with Nelson Riddle remains some of the highlights of her career.