Friday, 13 April 2007
OVER MY SHOULDER- the Jessie Matthews Centenary Issue
Jessie Matthews, vocals, various orchestras and conductors
ASV Living Era CD AJA 5663
24 tracks, 77 minutes
Younger Britons, if they remember Jessie Matthews at all, remember her as someone who occasionally appeared on television variety showssuch as The Good Old Days or Night of 100 Stars. If they're older, they may recall her role as the diary-keeping protagonist on BBC radio's soap-opera Mrs. Dale's Diary. But before all of that, back in the 1930s, Jesse Matthews was one of the biggest stars of the West End and of British film musicals, in which she was known for her dancing and singing. ASV's Living Era series has marked the centenary of her birth by reissuing a collection of her recordings issued between 1927 and 1942. It includes selections from 12 shows and films, ranging from the 1927 Rodgers and Hart review One Damn Thing After Another- in which Matthews starred- to the 1942 show Wild Rose (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Buddy DeSylva).
These are not "soundtrack" or "original cast" versions. (Unbelievable in retrospect, it wasn't until the late 1940s that filmmakers and show producers began to wake up to the promotion possibilities of recordings of cast performances.) Instead, what's on offer here are 24 lovingly-restored studio recordings, with non-original arrangements, each tailored to fit one side of a 10-inch 78-rpm disc. Nine are accompanied by pianist Carroll Gibbons and "members of the Savoy Orpheans" (the popular society orchestra that performed at London's Savoy Hotel). Four others are conducted by Louis Levy, at that time the music director for Gaumont-British films. The selections include old favorites (Dancing on the Ceiling, Look For the Silver Lining), and some neglected gems, such as Revel and Gordon's Head Over Heels in Love (title song from the 1937 film), and the previously unknown-to-me Lord and Lady Whoozis (Goodhart, Hoffman, and Lerner, from another 1937 film, Gangway), which will have listeners making comparisons to another British actress, Julie Andrews.
Matthews' performances reflect the stage conventions of the time. In some of the earlier ones she sings the verses, and milks the introductions for dramatic pauses before getting underway. (It's a bit disconcerting if you're accustomed to recordings that plunge right in at once, or after only a short introduction. Also her enunciation is occasionally "theatrical" (one writer called her voice "cut glass"). But don't let that put you off. By the middle of the disc you won't even notice, and by the time you're done you'll be glad you listened. (Or, if you're new to this period, start somewhere in the middle, then come back to the beginning once you're convinced.) And the sound, by the way, is by no means decrepit; in fact it's highly listenable.
Highly recommended, especially to anyone who has neglected exploring 1930s musicals.
Here's a 30-second sample: [MP3]
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