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Album Review

John Cranko, who conceived the British musical revue Cranks, was a choreographer, but he also wrote lyrics for the show's songs with composer John Addison. Yet his greatest contribution may have been in the casting of the four-hander, which featured Annie Ross, Anthony Newley, Hugh Bryant, and Gilbert Vernon. Ross was known as a jazz singer with a theatrical background, while Newley had appeared in a string of films, but never sung professionally before. It must have been the staging and the chemistry between the performers that gave the show its charm. Opening in the West End on March 1, 1956, it ran for 223 performances. Then, the entire production decamped for Broadway, where a November 26, 1956, opening led to only 40 performances. It's not surprising that the transfer across the Atlantic didn't work. The musical residue heard on the cast album reveals that Cranko occasionally aspires to the wordplay and wit of Noël Coward, but he rarely succeeds. Much of the time, the pedestrian songs rely on the engaging performances of Ross and Newley, along with Bryant, who handles the bluesy material. (Vernon, a ballet dancer, doesn't make much of an impression on the cast album.) Those performances are engaging, and Newley in particular shows off a virtuosity that would stand him in good stead later in his career. But as a purely musical work, Cranks is unmemorable.

On January 1, 2007, the original London cast recording to Cranks, initially released by HMV Records, fell out of copyright in the U.K., allowing any label that chose to issue an unlicensed version of it. Sepia Records' reissue includes informative liner notes by Rexton S. Bunnett and nine bonus tracks consisting of recordings made by Annie Ross for Decca in 1952-1955. These tracks have little in common with the music from Cranks, but they are excellent performances, including Ross' rendition of her self-written signature song "Twisted"; the scat number "Annie's Lament"; her covers of '50s standards like "Cry Me a River" and "Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean)"; and her recording of partner Jon Hendricks' "I Want You to Be My Baby." (The Must Close Saturday label, meanwhile, issued a version of Cranks that paired it with another out-of-copyright British musical cast recording, Wild Grows the Heather.)


Born: 25 July 1930 in Mitcham, Surrey, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Not just the canary female whose dexterous vocals highlighted recordings by the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Annie Ross recorded more than a dozen albums of solid vocal jazz and appeared in many movies. Though she was the last member to join LH&R, she had been pursuing the same pioneering fusions of vocal music with bop delivery for several years before she joined Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. Born Annabelle Lynch in Surrey, England, she moved to Los Angeles at the age of three, with...
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Cranks, Annie Ross
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