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Songs for Sunday

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Album Review

Songs for Sunday (1967) was the final Warner Brothers long player released by then 74-year-old Jimmy Durante (lead vocals). While certainly not considered a "singer" by conventional late-'60s standards, by the time of these recordings, Durante's status had been that of a "living legend" for decades. With his musical director Jackie Barnett by his side and at the helm, Durante lends his unmistakably empathetic voice to ten sacred selections. While starkly contrasting the majority of the effort, the jazzy mid-tempo opener "Down by the Riverside" is given a hearty and jubilant interpretation that emphasizes the dramatic strength of the artist's delivery. It is the same heartfelt connection that ably cuts through the decidedly heavy-handed arrangements. Yet Durante counters the slow, syrupy string flourishes and dated choral scores — most prevalent on "He Touched Me," "In the Garden," and "Peace in the Valley" — with a unique sincerity and amicable "everyman" quality. The uptempo "Somebody's Keeping Score" stands out as the bar is raised on the level of showmanship that Durante brings to one of the lighter hearted outings. To a similar degree, the gospel singalong "Amen" would not have come off with as much enthusiasm or joy were it in practically anyone else's care. A key element surfacing prominently here is how Durante incorporates rhythmic phrasing to overcome what is an admittedly limited vocal range. Nowhere is that as evident as Durante's affecting treatment of "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." The project's closing number — "One of These Days," penned by arranger Ralph Carmichael — bears a world-weary poignancy and sentiment comparable to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" or Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year." In 2008, Collectors' Choice Music issued Songs for Sunday on CD, making the title available after several decades out of print.


Born: February 10, 1893 in New York, NY

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

If any performer can truly be said to have carved out his own comedic turf, made a huge success out of it lasting over several decades, while completely owning that piece of turf lock, stock, and barrel, then that performer would have to be Jimmy Durante. There never has been -- nor is there likely ever to be -- a stylistic school of Durante; the man and his character are of one piece and ingrained in the national consciousness to the extreme. Anyone foolish enough to start appropriating any part...
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Songs for Sunday, Jimmy Durante
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