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100 Strings and Joni

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Album Review

Joni James became the first American pop vocalist to record in the hallowed halls of Abbey Road Studios. James' then-husband and musical director, Anthony Acquaviva, had wanted to record her in a studio setting backed by a mammoth orchestra, much in keeping with the effect achieved during her appearance at Carnegie Hall with Arturo Toscanini's 100-piece Symphony of the Air. After her triumphant engagement at the prestigious London Palladium, an invitation was extended to the artist to record at EMI's Abbey Road facility. Not only could the studio incorporate the expansive ensemble, but also the entire project could be successfully achieved at a fraction of the expenditure a similar undertaking would have cost stateside. The results are uniformly breathtaking as James' dramatic vocal inflections effortlessly animate a dozen pop music standards. Oddly, after the material was chosen, the arrangements were not left in the hands of Acquaviva, but rather a pair of English arrangers — Geoff Love and Tony Osborne — whose enormous successes included hits with other notable female icons such as Shirley Basseyand Connie Francis. The blend of warm and vibrant acoustics at Abbey Road as well as the fresh scores of timeless material, give James' an inviting sonic canvas onto which she and the assembled musicians impeccably utilize their complementary talents. The arrangements for "Imagination," "But Beautiful," and the lilting "Hi-Lilli, Hi-Lo" are among the more exquisite and accomplished, although it is admittedly difficult to find fault with any of them. James delicately balances authoritative intonations with tasteful restraint and the purity of innocence. Again, the disc is replete with examples, however, the enchanting and airy woodwind introduction to "Wait and See" is among the more memorable passages, revealing that these are far from rote or perfunctory performances. The success of 100 Strings and Joni (1959) would spawn several spin-off long-players — such as the thematic 100 Strings and Joni on Broadway (1961) or 100 Strings and Joni in Hollywood (1962). While they, too, would be filled with James' timeless magic, there is a palpable connection that remains within the grooves of the original project that would be seemingly impossible to re-create. In 2002 the artist — in conjunction with Collectors' Choice Music — reissued 100 Strings and Joni on CD — adding half a dozen "bonus tracks" from the equally romantic 100 Strings and Joni: I'm In The Mood For Love — Songs by Jimmy McHugh (1960). The timbre of the recording shines through the four-plus decades since the sessions, yielding an even more brilliant listening experience.


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...
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100 Strings and Joni, Joni James
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