Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jo Stafford - The Joyful Season: The Voice Of

After doing some Google searches on Jo Stafford, it's remarkable to see so many similarities in her career to Frank Sinatra's. Both were unknowns given their big breaks by Tommy Dorsey in the late 1930s - early 1940s.

Both left Dorsey around the same time; Jo signed with Capitol Records, Frank with Columbia Records. Around 1950, both flip-flopped to the opposite record labels, each had their own television shows, and their recording career both blossomed in the 50s.

Stafford had a successful career recording albums of American and Scottish folk airs, country blues, hymns, spirituals, show tunes, and jazz. She even won a Grammy award for Best Comedy Record for the duets she sang with her longtime husband Paul Weston as Jonathan & Darlene Edwards.

She recorded her first Christmas album in 1955 called Happy Holiday (an album I must add to my wish lists). In 1961, Stafford went back to Capitol Records (just as Sinatra was starting his own label Reprise) with a six album deal and semi-retired thereafter at the tender age of 50. Thankfully, one of those six albums was this one.

Happy Holiday was a collection of popular seasonal songs so Stafford wanted to focus on the traditional Christmas songs for this album. She does the vocals & harmonies (just like Patti Page did for several of her hits) and uses the multi-tracking sound of Les Paul & Mary Ford to create a fantastic album. This is the definition of smooth.

The standout track on the album is "Christmas In The Season", a song written by Weston and two aspiring songwriters named Alan & Marilyn Bergman (what ever happened to those two?). The song lasts 1:48 and its bouncy beat and vocals makes you think of "Sleigh Ride". As I type my reviews here, I listen to the album and I've listened to this song three times already!

Two unreleased bonus tracks on the CD feature Gordon MacRae, Stafford's most frequent vocal partner. Both Christmas medleys include choral backing, the accompanying organ, and MacRae belting it out like he did in the movie musical "Oklahoma!". It's a little jarring to hear after such lush sounds.

Which is why the last bonus track is so welcome: "Toys For Tots". This was recorded during her Capitol years for the annual US Marine Corp Reserve toy drive in the 1950s. This makes the third complete version of this song in my collection (first two being Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee).

On to the next new album in my collection...


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