Listening #95 Page 2

Read a few good books on the subject—and I know just where to start. Celebrate Aaron Copland's 110th birthday with a copy of his seminal book, What to Listen For in Music (Penguin Group, 2009, 320 pp.). I bought my copy for $1.95 in the mid-1970s, and it has served me well ever since. First published in 1939—when King Oliver was only one year in the grave, Richard Strauss had yet to compose Metamorphosen, and virtually all music recordings spun at 78rpm—What to Listen For in Music is eminently helpful and almost singularly readable. (In college, I took every Music Appreciation section that was open to non-music majors—five courses in all, I think—and I remember the textbooks as being far less accessible than this.) Its many notation examples can be understood with no more than a grade-schooler's ability to read music, and Copland's writing style is clear and kindly. It's difficult to imagine a better teacher.

Modern Records
I'm one of those people, apparently neither rare nor overly abundant, who loved the James McTeigue film V for Vendetta completely, enjoying its hopefulness at least as much as the hipster nihilism of the Alan Moore comic book on which it was based. And with the possible exceptions of Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man and Sidney Lumet's Daniel, not to mention the title sequence of Zach Snyder's Watchmen (also based on a comic by Moore, with illustrations by Dave Gibbons, also denounced by its ringed-and-robed originator), I can think of no film that has more effectively blended popular songs into its narrative.

Case in point: Julie London's iconic "Cry Me a River," one of the many songs said to be banned in the film's dystopian future—and so, of course, enjoying a place of honor on the protagonist's personal jukebox. And why not? With London's self-assured, emotionally detached delivery (a little too detached, I think, in the middle eight) and the almost shockingly spare accompaniment by bassist Ray Leatherwood and the immortal Barney Kessel on guitar, "Cry Me a River" is the ultimate kiss-off record: the ultimate cool 45.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when I received a shiny new copy of Julie Is Her Name, the 1955 album that introduced Julie London and "Cry Me a River" to the world. Produced for Liberty Records by London's then husband, Bobby Troup, the mono recording was a stunner, even in its earliest pressings (I have a scratchy copy of the original): big, clear, and startlingly present, with remarkably strong bass and a close-up vocal sound that suited "Cry Me a River" and its 12 other songs perfectly well. The reissue, by a relatively new company called Boxstar Records, was mastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analog tape at 45rpm; it spans two LPs.

The reissue sounds fine, thanks for which must be shared with Boxstar's principals: David Fonn, whom many of us recall as the softspoken man behind Cisco Records, and the songwriter and music-industry veteran Larry Marks. As with every record I've heard that's been manufactured by RTI, my copy of Julie . . . has dead-silent grooves, with none of the noises that indicate shoddy plating or pressing.

Apparently, spreading the songs across four sides brought with it the opportunity for a gatefold sleeve and extra liner notes, the latter something of a mixed blessing. The essay "Julie and Me" focuses, uncomfortably, on writer Stan Cornyn's love affair with the singer, with one mention too many of her "shapely" figure: I would have liked more Julie and less Me. On the other hand, there's an absolutely lovely piece by the man who wrote "Cry Me a River," Arthur Hamilton. In text as in song, he packs a lot of power into very few words.

Coincidentally, an Arthur Hamilton song ("She Needs Me") also features on Boxstar's latest reissue: Bobby Darin's That's All (1959), also recorded in mono. Until now, all I've known of the Darin catalog were his biggest hits, two of which—"Beyond the Sea" and "Mack the Knife"—are included here, in glorious tic-free sound. Happily, that's not all That's All has going for it. The real high spots are "I'll Remember April"—one of those tunes I'd heard a million times without knowing the words or even the title—and a brilliant arrangement of the Gershwin brothers' "It Ain't Necessarily So."

The sound is remarkable. It has all the solidity, scale, and color for which the best mono recordings are known, yet with the sort of openness and clarity that make it easy to distinguish among all the instruments in Richard Wess's punchy arrangements. If anything, this is an even better-sounding reissue than the Julie London LP, with still-greater presence and immediacy.


voxshall's picture

Hey Art. I'm interested in my tech proforming this Mono mod and he said it wouldn't work because it would put both the stereo cart and mono cart in parallel, resulting in the wrong impedance. Hopefully I got that right as I don't understand how this stuff works. But could you please explain if this is a problem or how you got around it?