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Joni James: Sings Hank Williams

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Album Review

After a decade as a top pop vocalist, Joni James' recordings in the early-to-mid-'60s began to shift along with the rest of popular music. Her adaptability is evident throughout her catalog, which began to incorporate a jazzier style with smaller combos, as opposed to the torch songs and balladry that would better lend itself to a fuller orchestration. On Joni James Sings the Gershwins, James is joined by Jimmie Haskell, whose immense resume would span throughout the second half of the 20th century. His contributions can be heard by artists as far afield as the Association to the Bangles. Rather than attempting to adapt a specific style to the same instrumentation, Haskell provides a spectrum of interpretations. Among the project's highlights are the upbeat and driving "S' Wonderful," the calypso and Latin-tinged rhythms on "Nice Work If You Can Get It," the carefree "Bidin' My Time," as well as the rich and lush "Love Walked In." James is uniformly mesmerizing with her trademark crystalline timbre and faultless intonations now swaddled in a distinct maturity, which can be heard within the simple elegance of "Love Is Here To Stay" and "Soon." Somewhat disconcerting is the flat reverb that James' voice has been processed in. Granted, this criticism may seem minor. However, by way of contrast to her earlier work, the vocals seem to hang ethereally apart from the backing, rather than become an extension of the superior instrumentation. Alas, such was the style of producing in the early '60s, as stereophonic began to replace monaural recordings. Indeed some early rock and roll sides may have benefited from this sonic manipulation, but on discs such as Joni James Sings the Gershwins, it stands as a discrepancy rather than enhancement. In 2002, the Collectors' Choice reissue label paired Joni James Sings the Gershwins with another 'songbook' title, the Rodgers and Hart/Rodgers and Hammerstein collection My Favorite Things as a CD two-fer.


Born: 22 September 1930 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '50s, '60s

Pop songstress Joni James was born Giovanna Carmella Babbo in Chicago on September 22, 1930. After studying drama and ballet throughout her adolescence, she joined a local dance troupe on a tour of Canada upon graduating high school, later working as a chorus girl at the Windy City's Edgewater Beach Hotel. A fill-in gig at an Indiana roadhouse convinced James to pursue a career as a singer, and while appearing in a TV commercial she was spotted by executives at MGM, signing to the label in 1952....
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Joni James: Sings Hank Williams, Joni James
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