Tam Henderson, Reference Recordings Eileen Farrell Sings Harold Arlen

Robert Deutsch reviewed the Eileen Farrell CD in November 1989 (Vol.12 No.11):

Eileen Farrell: Sings Harold Arlen
Eileen Farrell; Loonis McGlohon, piano & arrangements; Joe Wilder, special guest artist
Reference Recordings RR-30 (LP), RR-30CD (CD). Keith O. Johnson, eng.; J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., prod. AAA/DDD. TT: 47:36

In an interview with JA in the June 1989 issue, Reference Recordings' Tam Henderson describes working with Eileen Farrell as "more than a dream come true." Endowed with one of the glorious soprano voices of our time, Farrell is best known for her concert and operatic repertoire, but she did record an album of popular songs in the early 1960s (I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues, now available as CBS Special Products ACS 8256). She has retired from an active career, but her contribution to the recent Telarc Sound of Music (CD-80162) showed that, even after 40-odd years of singing, she still has much to offer. Henderson says he was so pleased with the results of her return to the recording studio that they recorded material for two albums, with two more in the offing. The present recording is the first in this series, and, to my ears at least, is not entirely successful.

It's true that, as Henderson points out, Farrell approaches popular music on its own terms, so that she does not end up sounding like a slumming opera singer. The voice remains an attractive instrument, and although she no longer has—or essays—the soaring high notes of yore, this is compensated for by a creamy low register. At her best, such as in "A Woman's Prerogative," with its deliciously risqu;ae lyrics, she proves she can sing and swing with the best of them. The problem (and there's no polite way of saying this) is that she does not always sing in tune. Unfortunately, this problem is particularly apparent in the first two numbers, so that for the rest of the record I found that I was wary, not quite trusting her to maintain proper pitch. Perhaps the worst example is "Out of This World," where she has the additional handicap of singing against (I use the word advisedly) an extremely "busy" arrangement.

In fairness to her, I must point out that stronger guidance from musical director Loonis McGlohon and/or producer Tam Henderson probably would have resulted in singing that is more consistently in tune. Also, heretical as this notion might seem in an audiophile context, the major recording companies routinely deal with singers' intonation problems by having a large number of vocal takes in a multitrack format, takes that are then edited down into a more nearly perfect composite. Of course, there's a sonic penalty for this technique, but it does allow much greater control over the results.

Having thus made an argument for multitracking (never thought you'd read this in Stereophile, did you?), let me acknowledge that sound quality on this recording is superb—all right, much better than if they had used multitracking. Since I've updated my Arcam Black Box with the latest TDA1541A-S1 and SAA7220P/B chips, I've heard fewer differences between LP and CD formats, and, in this case, they amount to a slightly warmer tonal balance and a bit more depth on LP.—Robert Deutsch

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