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Rosemary Clooney: The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-61

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Venture over to the Mosaic Records website and you’ll discover that this five-disc set, filled with 104 tracks recorded by Rosemary Clooney for various CBS radio programs over a seven-year span, is likely the first release in the archival label’s venerable history that comes with an apologia of sorts. “Jazz purists are probably lowering that one, arched, skeptical eyebrow right now,” begins the description of the box set, which goes on to justify Clooney’s midcentury cred by reminding us that legit jazz stars like Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Nat King Cole (who suffered his own slings and arrows from the jazz police during this same period) admired and respected her artistry. Are these jazz tracks? Debatable. Do they presage the entirely valid, dynamic jazz singer that Clooney would become two decades later when she emerged as a cornerstone of the Concord catalogue? Absolutely.

This set, a kind of extension of Mosaic’s seven-disc Bing Crosby CBS Radio Recordings 1954-56 and, from Universal, Bing & Rosie, a double-disc collection of Crosby-Clooney radio duets, marks an interesting time for Clooney. After churning out a handful of hits and a mountain of dross-cloying novelty and children’s tunes like “Little Sally One Shoe” and “Where Will the Dimple Be?”-under the direction of the populistic Mitch Miller, Clooney would soon part ways with Columbia Records. The timing was unfortunate, since it dovetailed with the widespread popularity of the 12-inch LP format. Had she stayed at Columbia, she might have emerged as a top-tier album-oriented standards-bearer alongside label-mates Tony Bennett, Doris Day and Johnny Mathis, not to mention Miller escapee Frank Sinatra, whose albums over at Capitol were shaping his seismic musical rebirth. Instead, she flitted from label to label, touching down briefly at MGM, Coral, RCA, Dot, Capitol and Sinatra’s Reprise within the space of nine years. Her output totaled less than a dozen albums, including a platter of country tunes, another of hymns, two duet outings with Crosby and yet more children’s material.

As a result, her yield of standards during the mid- and late-’50s and into the ’60s was extremely low. Though Clooney, who (often alongside Crosby) hand-selected the majority of the material she sang on these radio shows, does occasionally cover grown-up pop hits of the day, standards and sturdy show tunes predominate, including dozens she never recorded elsewhere.

Clooney, still in her late 20s and early 30s, is in fine, young form. And as the discs advance from 1955 to ’61, her progress as a stylist is strongly evident. Toward the set’s end, when she wades into “Don’t Blame Me” and “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” she can be considered an interpreter easily on par with Bennett and Sinatra. But these tracks were built for radio. They are short (most in the 1:30 to 2:30 range), because that’s what the medium demanded. The tailored-to-the-hoi-polloi accompaniment from keyboardist Buddy Cole’s dependably pedestrian quartet volleys between bland and niggling (particularly when Cole switches from piano to zippy organ). Such lackluster backing does, however, allow Clooney’s inimitable voice, at once fragile and hardy, to truly shine. Her phrasing and clarity are impeccable. Holiday once told her, “You sing from the heart.” Indeed, her sincerity, her gut-level honesty, proves incomparably winning.

Originally Published