Review Harold Arlen And His Songs

Harold Arlen

... read moreSongwriter Harold Arlen had an extensive career as a singer, recording numerous singles between 1926 and 1934, starting with his work with the Buffalodians and continuing with many tracks as vocalist for Leo Reisman & His Orchestra, including a hit recording of his song "Stormy Weather" in 1933...

Songwriter Harold Arlen had an extensive career as a singer, recording numerous singles between 1926 and 1934, starting with his work with the Buffalodians and continuing with many tracks as vocalist for Leo Reisman & His Orchestra, including a hit recording of his song "Stormy Weather" in 1933. Arlen largely discontinued his performing after the mid-'30s and stuck to composing, but 20 years later two recording projects came up at almost the same time. The first was an offer to make an LP for tiny Walden Records that Arlen worked on during the early '50s; the disc appeared under the title The Music of Harold Arlen in 1955. That same year, Arlen did a much higher-profile project, Harold Arlen and His Songs, for the major label Capitol Records with a full orchestra. Peter Matz served as arranger/conductor on both albums, but he had a bigger budget at Capitol, and the result is an excellent survey of Arlen's own performances of some of his best-known songs. The songwriter's background as a professional singer made him much more than the usual tunesmith rendering his compositions while knowing that he would be eclipsed by real singing stars. Arlen has a real vocal personality, using a confident, elastic tenor to nail personal interpretations of the familiar songs. Maybe he's not Frank Sinatra, but technically he's a better singer than, say, Fred Astaire, and those comparisons are noticeable when he takes on "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," a song Astaire introduced but Sinatra made his own. Arlen won't make the listener forget Judy Garland's renditions of "Over the Rainbow" or "The Man That Got Away" (here revised as "The Gal That Got Away"), but his versions are perfectly valid on their own terms. Matz's arrangements are imaginative and supportive, leaving plenty of room for Arlen to express himself. The composer lived in an era when songwriters weren't supposed to sing, and singers weren't supposed to write. Harold Arlen and His Songs demonstrates what a shame that was. ~ William Ruhlmann