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March 2003

Rosemary Clooney
The Last Concert
Concord Records

Leave it to Rosie Clooney to exit on a high note. Captured live at the Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu for what would prove to be her final recording, Clooney transcends the vocal decay that had crept into her two or three previous studio outings, sounding better than she has in years. Throughout her short set (clocking in a just under 40 minutes), the breathing is less labored, the strain subdued, and that inimitable Clooney wit, sharp as Wisconsin cheddar, is in fine form.

Backed by an 80-piece orchestra that combines Matt Catingub's Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack, her boisterous recording mates from 2001's Sentimental Journey, and the Catingub-conducted Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Clooney opens by explaining to the capacity crowd that, "the first time I played here was the night Hawaii became a state" in 1959. "Now," she chuckles, "I'm back by popular demand." Drawing heavily from the Sentimental Journey playlist, Clooney avoids the signature hits that typically dominated her concert appearances in favor of dreamy ballads and sturdy standards. She pays tribute to old pal Bing Crosby with a rousing "Ol' Man River" and offers up a double salute to Sinatra by blending Vincent Falcone's gushingly sentimental "The Singer" with a worldly-wise "They Can't Take That Away From Me" that echoes Ol' Blue Eyes at his rakish best.

Clooney closes with a rousing "God Bless America," imploring the capacity crowd to sing along. It's tough to shake the image of an American treasure bidding us adieu with America's most treasured anthem. There is no encore. Instead, she whispers a heartfelt "Thank you for one of the best nights of my life," providing final proof of how intently she understood the elegance, and eloquence, of simplicity.

Originally published in March 2003
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