The cabaret crowd thought them too jazzy. The jazz cognoscenti dismissed them as too cabaret. Yet, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, the only husband-and-wife team able to out-hip Keely Smith and Louis Prima and arguably the coolest, most sophisticated vocal cats of the 20th-century’s latter half, managed to share a career that survived more than 40 years and nearly as many record labels.
By 1976, when Jackie and Roy signed on for a weekend-long stay at legendary bassist-turned-impresario Howard Rumsey’s Redondo Beach nitery, Concerts by the Sea, they had already been bounced from ABC to Columbia, Roulette, Capitol and Verve (and on down the line to ever-tinier outfits), delivering disc after disc that delighted critics yet barely caused more than a ripple among the record-buying public. So, it was probably no surprise that a live nine-track album, logically entitled Concerts by the Sea, sank without a trace. Thereafter ranked as a coveted collector’s item, it finally resurfaced on CD in 2000. Now, this fraternal twin, culled from those same ’76 club dates but featuring an entirely different assortment of songs, joins that mini-masterpiece.
Opening with the infectiously peppy “I Wonder What’s the Matter With Me,” the 66-minute set reflects the pair’s passion for intelligently crafted tunes and urbane lyrics. There are three nods to their favorite composer, Alec Wilder, with the cleverly bucolic “It’s So Peaceful in the Country,” the sweet au revoir that is “Walk Pretty” and the wistful “The Echoes of My Life,” a dose of Jobim (the twilight tenderness of “Corcovado”), Dave Frishberg’s mordant “Wheelers and Dealers” and André and Dory Previn’s bouncy kiss-off “The Runaround.” Nor can Roy resist asserting his lifelong affection for all things Humphrey Bogart-related, with both Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s cuddly “How Little We Know” (from To Have and Have Not) and Kral’s own “The Fat Man,” an appropriately noir-ish tribute to perennial Bogart nemesis Sydney Greenstreet, featuring whip-smart Fran Landesman lyrics. But the brightest pearl in this bucket of seaside treasures is Kral’s “The Way We Are,” a bracing exercise in scat acrobatics.