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Maxine Sullivan: The “Le Ruban Bleu” Years: The Complete Recordings 1944-1949

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Maxine Sullivan’s 1937 recording of “Loch Lomond” made her an overnight star with major label contracts, her own CBS radio show and a featured role in the Warner Brothers movie Going Places. But by 1944, she’d grown tired of battling with agents and managers and decided to become a free-lance artist, taking charge of her own career. Throughout the ’40s, she was a fixture at sophisticated Manhattan clubs-Le Ruban Bleu, the Village Vanguard, the Penthouse Club-but only received offers to record for obscure independent labels. The “Le Ruban Bleu” Years: The Complete Recordings 1944-1949 collects her sessions for Davis, Delux, and International, along with four 1949 radio transcriptions, and a “bonus program” of five sides cut for Armed Forces Radio in the early ’40s.

With her sweet, smooth voice, subtle time placement and elegant diction, Sullivan remained a consistently polished vocalist until her death in 1987. Her Le Ruban Bleu Years recordings rise and fall based on the repertoire and backings. The CD opens unpromisingly with four trite, string-backed ballads composed by record producer Joe Davis. But the album quickly recovers with two sparkling 1945 tracks featuring a Teddy Wilson quintet including vibist Red Norvo, and two cuts with Benny Carter’s orchestra. A six-side 1946 album containing remakes of Sullivan standards (“Loch Lomond,” “If I Had a Ribbon Bow”) is burdened by Sylvan Shulman soupy strings-and-harp arrangements, but another six-song program recorded the following year finds the vocalist sensitively supported by master accompanist Ellis Larkins. Four 1949 transcriptions with orchestra arranged by Bob Haggart are equally satisfying. Unsurprisingly, the AFR tracks, four with Jimmy Lunceford’s band, are more jazz-oriented than the other sessions. Despite the CD’s uneven sound quality, Sullivan fans are bound to treasure most of these lovely, long-unavailable performances.