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Boy Meets Girl: Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen McRae on Decca

Sammy Davis, Jr. & Carmen McRae

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Album Review

Verve's Boy Meets Girl: Sammy Davis, Jr. & Carmen McRae on Decca documents the two late-'50s records featuring duets between Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen McRae. 1958's Boy Meets Girl has both singers on all the tracks, while 1959's Porgy and Bess is Sammy's show all the way as McRae is on only a couple of songs. Boy Meets Girl is the more pleasurable of the two albums as the duo tackles some of the best tunes big-time writers like Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, and Jerome Kern had to offer, classics like "You're the Top," "Cheek to Cheek," "A Fine Romance," and "Two Sleepy People." Swinging easily throughout, they sound like two pals who are having the time of their lives (the amazing photos in the CD booklet seem to bear this out). Sammy goofs his way through the album, casting asides like a wisecracking kid, while Carmen sails along like the consummate pro she always was. They achieve a perfect balance between sophisticated charm (McRae) and eager-to-please hamminess (Davis), and the record is a joy from beginning to end. Of particular note are their take on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (where Sam cracks up Carmen a couple of times), the very romantic "There's a Small Hotel" (which shows the pair weren't all laughs but had some emotional depth too), and their lighthearted romp through "You're the Top." With no weak tracks, the album should rate right up there with any vocal duet album made. The Verve collection adds the cha cha novelty tune "I Go for You," a non-LP side, for good measure. Porgy and Bess presents more of a challenge to their fan bases as the record is piled to the sky with strings, harps, choruses, and pillowy orchestration. On "Summertime" Carmen is nearly drowned out by the orchestra and Sammy has to beat back the orchestra and vocal chorus on too many occasions. He's usually up for it, though; his voice has a magnificent power that might surprise people who know him as just a wisecracking hipster. Listen to him tackle "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" or dazzle his way through "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York"; it's the sound of a man holding nothing back. Carmen shines too on a dramatic "My Man's Gone Now" that shows what a great interpreter she was, and the pair's one duet on the record, "I Loves You Porgy," manages to be sweet despite the overbearing strings. The best tracks on the record are Sammy's romp through "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing" and his storming "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'," tracks that have some energy and jazz pulsing behind the stifling strings and choruses. Call the record an admirable effort or a qualified success. It never really succeeds as an enjoyable listening experience, because the arrangements are just too proper and academic. They serve to bury the emotion behind the words and weaken the power of the melodies. Credit Sammy and Carmen for holding up their end of the deal. You just have to wonder how much better the record could have been if the arrangements were looser, if there were some swing involved. Despite the problems one might have with Porgy and Bess, the pairing of these two albums is a long-awaited treat to fans of both singers.

Biography

Born: 08 April 1920 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Carmen McRae always had a nice voice (if not on the impossible level of an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan) but it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretations of lyrics that made her most memorable. She studied piano early on and had her first important job singing with Benny Carter's big band (1944), but it would be another decade before her career had really gained much momentum. McRae married and divorced Kenny Clarke in the '40s, worked with Count Basie (briefly) and Mercer Ellington...
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