When the album ˝What’s New˝ by Linda Ronstadt was released in 1983 I must admit I was a bit skeptical; Linda had done outstanding work in the Rock and Roll arena - many of her albums are now classics (˝Mad Love˝, ˝Heart Like A Wheel˝ to name a couple) - but how would she fare singing standards made famous by the likes of icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra?
I’m happy to say that my skepticism lasted exactly 3 minutess, 55 seconds, the length of the title track ˝What’s New˝; after hearing that one song, I immediately rushed out to purchase the album and have been in love with it ever since.
When I learned that none other than the great Nelson Riddle had arranged the songs, I knew that this was an album I had to have in my collection.
Nelson’s musical output is now the stuff of legend, whether it was his own solo work or his collaborations with some of the greatest singers of the day - he worked with Nat ˝King˝ Cole on more than 15 albums, arranged countless songs for Frank Sinatra, and his work on Ella Fitzgerald’s massive 5-album Gershwin songbook - his work remains seminal today among Jazz, Big Band and Standards lovers.
To my suprise and delight, ˝What’s New˝ was not the only Riddle/Ronstadt collaboration; ˝Lush Life˝ and ˝For Sentimental Reasons˝ were also to follow.
These three albums now packaged as ˝The ’Round Midnight Collection˝ are now among my ˝Desert Island Top Twenty˝.
There’s not a clunker in this 32-song collection and Nelson Riddle’s arrangements - some of his last known works - rank among his best; their sheer beauty never fail to take my breath away.
I’m hard pressed to single out my favorites in this wonderful collection, as I love all 32 of these songs.
In no particular order they are as follows: ˝Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry˝, about one woman’s resolve to move on with their life after the ending of a love affair and succeeding, until that one fateful day when her former lover passes her on the street.
The dramatic finish is in true Nelson Riddle fashion and does not fail to deliver. ˝Lover Man˝, the Billie Holiday classic about the yearning for ˝something I’ve never had˝, gets a sparkling new polish; ˝What’ll I Do?˝, a lover’s plea about her lover who is far away, is an absolutely gorgeous rendering with a bluesy saxophone solo touch. ˝You Took Advantage Of Me˝ and ˝Can’t We Be Friends?˝ both swing freely and breezily despite their lyrics; with ˝Sophisticated Lady˝, Duke Ellington’s masterpiece of love gone wrong, is another stunner.
The other truly transcendent moments included in this collection are ˝Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered˝, ˝But Not For Me˝, the Judy Garland gem, ˝It Never Entered My Mind˝, and the sly and sexy delivery of ˝Straigthen Up And Fly Right˝ featuring a guest vocal appearance by James Taylor.
Every one of these songs is superbly done and at the heart of this truly magnificent collection is that voice; Linda has never sounded better.
She is expressive, impassioned, sweet, sexy - and breaks your heart in the process.
She and Nelson never misstep and both singer and arranger treat each of these classics with the respect they deserve.
The ’Round Midnight Collection is a last loving gift from arranger/composer nonpareil Nelson Riddle and Linda Ronstadt, a singer who, with a handful of classic standards, effortlessly bridged the gap between two generations.
This collection is a must have for those who love Swing, Big Band, Jazz music and Standards.
No matter whatever avenues Linda Ronstadt takes with regard to music, as far as I’m concerned she has done very well by the Past.