In his 1950s prime, Billy Daniels combined the baronial lustre of Billy Eckstine, the smooth elegance of Nat Cole and the outsized showmanship of Sammy Davis Jr. Yet while all three of those peers earned legendary status, Daniels is largely forgotten. His recorded output wasn’t voluminous, and not nearly enough of what he did produce has survived into the digital age. Which makes this twofer especially welcome.
When the Stardust hotel and casino opened in 1958, then the largest, most lavish addition to the Vegas Strip, Daniels was signed to a 40-week contract as headliner in the main lounge. A live album seemed a canny move. In fact, At the Stardust was shaped in an L.A. studio. Aside from waves of sloppily added applause, it’s a gem, Daniels fronting the Benny Payne Orchestra—with Payne proving plenty of vocal interplay—as he weaves tender ballads with such rousing crowd-pleasers as “The Birth of the Blues,” “Temptation” and “Ol’ Man River.”
But Stardust pales in comparison to the sublime You Go to My Head, recorded a year later under the direction of Benny Carter (leading his orchestra and crafting the arrangements) and featuring such stellar players as Ben Webster, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Pete Candoli and an uncredited Paul Smith. Though impressive from end-to-end, Daniels and company reach dazzling heights on “It’s De-Lovely,” “Comes Love” and a glorious “Hallelujah.” Two bonus tracks come from 1961: a rollicking “Gonna Build a Mountain” and a wildly overblown “What Kind of Fool Am I.”