ARSC Review of “Judy Garland Sings Harold Arlen”

ARSC Journal XLVII / i 2016. © Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2016. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. Republished at The Judy Room with permission.

This review was first published in the Spring 2016 issue of the ARSC Journal (Volume 47, No. 1). The paper edition of the ARSC Journal can be purchased at the ARSC Journal page (www.arsc-audio.org/journal.html) of the ARSC website (www.arsc-audio.org/index.php).

spacer

Judy Garland Sings Harold Arlen. Compiled and with discography by Lawrence Schulman. JSP Records JSP4246A-B (2 CDs).

Judy Garland Sings Harold Arlen - JSP RecordsJSP Records continues its impressive series of Judy Garland recordings with this new two-disc set emphasizing Garland’s performances of the music of Broadway and Hollywood composer Harold Arlen from the period of 1939 to 1968. While continuing the recovery and restoration of rare or previously unheard Garland vocals, JSP has, in this case, also shined a bright spotlight on Arlen’s significant contributions, many of which are found in Garland’s repertoire. His often overlooked accomplishments as one of the signal creators of the “Great American Songbook” need reconsideration and this set provides a good opportunity. By emphasizing the contributions of both Garland and Arlen, JSP reveals their individual greatness and their remarkable collaboration in all its glory and variety. It is clear that Garland gave soaring voice to the diverse textures of Arlen’s music.

For listeners familiar with the prior releases compiled by Garland historian and discographer Lawrence Schulman on JSP and other labels, including Judy Garland: Lost Tracks 1929-1959 (four discs); Judy Garland: Smilin’ Through: The Singles Collection 1936-1947 (four discs); The Garland Variations (five discs); Swan Songs, First Flights (three discs), and Judy Garland: Best of the Lost Tracks (single disc), this latest set is a worthy addition to this extraordinary array of archivally significant contributions to the record of Garland’s unique treasure chest of vocals. JSP’s burgeoning catalogue of popular music provides a vast library, but their commitment to Garland stands out in its effort to restore and present lost and forgotten material. An engaged listener can only hope there is more to come from all phases of Garland’s career. Judy Garland Sings Harold Arlen is an interesting concept, emphasizing her fruitful collaboration with a major composer, and future sets might similarly put Garland together with the work of other composers, lyricists, or fellow performers to reveal, as this set so amply does, compelling aspects of her rich legacy.

Many of the Arlen songs on these discs feature lyrics by the estimable E. Y. “Yip” Harburg who, like Arlen, is under-appreciated as a contributor to the “Great American Songbook.” The evidence of his work here is demonstrated by the deeply moving eloquence of his “Over the Rainbow” lyrics and the playful wit of the title song from I Could Go On Singing (1963), Garland’s final film. There are seven renditions of “Over the Rainbow,” the first in 1939 and the last included here from 1968. Arlen’s music welded to Harburg’s lyrics, and interpreted by Garland, gave the Songbook perhaps its most memorable of all American popular songs. It provided its singular interpreter with an anthem heard first as a young girl’s wistful dreams and nearly thirty years later as a bittersweet, heartbreaking awareness that not all life’s dreams come true even as one yearns for that happy ending. The collaboration of Arlen and Harburg was a match made in show business heaven, but Arlen’s skill at collaborating with varied lyricists is similarly impressive. On display here are also the lyrics of Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler, and Ira Gershwin in some of their nest work.

As for Garland, this thirty-year selective retrospective of her vocalizing, heard mostly through songs long identified with her, such as “Over the Rainbow” or “The Man That Got Away,” songs that belong as exclusively to her as any song can, provides a vivid display of the evolution of Garland’s vocal prowess, an instrument astonishing in its range, as heard in the recordings from The Wizard of Oz (1939) to A Star Is Born (1954) especially. The post-A Star Is Born recordings offer a view of the profound depths achieved through her expanding interpretive skills as her voice became less consistently reliable. This is not to say that Garland’s post-A Star Is Born vocals are anything less than outstanding and singular, though there are clearly changes in her voice due to maturity and abuse, but that her more deeply felt and complex readings of lyrics add dimensions that render any vocal, however imperfect, either in performance or in audio quality, as part of a legacy that proves her genius.

As is reliably typical of JSP’s Garland releases, the overall sound quality is excellent, an impressive feat given the wide range of sources from which the tracks are taken. Flaws are inevitable, but the listening experience is as much as could be hoped. The mix of commercial studio recordings, soundtracks, radio performances, and seven bonus tracks drawn from live performances (and other rarities) make up the generously packed set. A particular highlight is the world premiere release of a recently rediscovered complete pre-recording of “Lose That Long Face” from A Star Is Born, which has undergone a painstaking restoration by John H. Haley from rare source material: a lacquer playback disc from collector Rick Smith. New to CD is the overture for A Star Is Born drawn from a merging of two surviving takes. Also included are two little-known radio performances and four songs, “The Man That Got Away,” It’s a New World,” “Get Happy,” and “Over the Rainbow,” performed by Garland in late 1968 at a Lincoln Center tribute to Arlen. Here the quality of restoration, again by Haley, liberates Garland’s performances from the murk of a source unprofessionally recorded. At this late point in Garland’s life, less than a year before her untimely death, these tracks demonstrate that she is not only in fine voice but, as previously noted, the depth of her interpretations of even these songs that she performed regularly for many years, is most impressive. The Arlen tribute vocals have circulated among collectors and fans for years, but the restoration here allows her performance to be fully appreciated and adds a touching coda with Arlen himself accompanying her on the piano.

Little-known items provide some of the pleasure here, such as “The Jitterbug,” a song eliminated from The Wizard of Oz, and early rarities like “Blues in the Night,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” (a song Garland frequently performed after her son, Joe Luft, was born), “Come Rain or Come Shine” (which emerged as a high-voltage showstopper at Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1961), and the four radio performances, “God’s Country,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Get Happy,” and “Over the Rainbow.” Less familiar tracks include songs from the animated Gay Purr-ee (1962), for which Garland provided vocals of new Arlen and Harburg songs “Little Drops of Rain,” “Take My Hand Paree,” “Paris Is a Lonely Town,” and “Roses Red, Violets Blue.” Finally, the six tracks from A Star Is Born, featuring some of Arlen’s most memorable music, are greatly enhanced by Ira Gershwin lyrics. Arlen and Gershwin’s “The Man That Got Away” has been appreciated as a Garland staple and she rarely concertized without performing it, but there is much to recommend the rest of the songs, “Here’s What I’m Here For,” “Gotta Have Me Go With You,” “Someone At Last,” “It’s a New World,” and “Lose That Long Face.”

As with prior JSP releases, there are ample notes regarding the individual tracks in accompanying booklets and on the face of discs. The rest of the two jewel cases features two essays, one by music journalist Joe Marchese and the other by Schulman, and the other includes a short essay by Garland collector Scott Brogan. All three writers celebrate the Arlen-Garland collaboration and provide fascinating tidbits about specifics of the rarest tracks featured here. As with previous JSP Garland sets compiled by Schulman, this one is a feast for the most informed of Garland admirers and at the same time provides an abundant introduction to her work for the comparatively uninitiated.

Reviewed by James Fisher

spacer

ARSC Journal XLVII / i 2016. © Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2016. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. Republished at The Judy Room with permission.

This review was first published in the Spring 2016 issue of the ARSC Journal (Volume 47, No. 1). The paper edition of the ARSC Journal can be purchased at the ARSC Journal page (www.arsc-audio.org/journal.html) of the ARSC website (www.arsc-audio.org/index.php).

spacer

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • The Judy Room on Facebook

  • Categories

%d bloggers like this: