I'll speak of Rusty first only because he comes first when referring to the album.
Wikipedia says, Rusty Draper "born Farrell H. Draper; January 25, 1923 – March 28, 2003) was an American country and pop singer who achieved his greatest success in the 1950s …Born in Kirksville, Missouri and nicknamed "Rusty" for his red hair, he began performing on his uncle's radio show in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid-1930s. Draper moved on to work at radio stations in Des Moines, Iowa—sometimes filling in for sports announcer Ronald Reagan—and in Illinois before settling in California. There he began to sing in local clubs, becoming resident singer at the Rumpus Room in San Francisco. By the early 1950s he had begun appearing on national TV shows including The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS) and Ozark Jubilee (ABC). In 1952, Draper signed to Mercury Records and issued his debut single, "How Could You (Blue Eyes)". The following year, after a national club tour, his cover version of Jim Lowe's "Gambler's Guitar” made No. 6 on both the country and pop charts, and sold a million copies, and was awarded a gold disc …"
It seems simple doesn't it?
A career that it.
When time is written down and reflected in a couple of paragraphs in a wikipedia entry.
Rusty's career almost seems easy but 15 or so years had elapsed between entering the business as an adult and his first hit.
Rusty is usually labelled a country and pop singer and that is accurate as he had hits in both genres and worked in both styles.
In the early 1950s there were two groups of country and pop acts fighting for the same piece of pop chart pie You had Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold, who incorporated pop sensibilities into their sound and then you had trad pop singers who incorporated county sensibilities into their sounds much like Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, and Dean Martin did at various points of their careers.
Rusty was somewhere in between, as was Guy Mitchell.
Rusty and Guy Mitchell both had backgrounds in country music but Guy only flirted with his west coast country roots for a few years when he was starting out. Rusty was more committed to his country music roots (check the video link below from 1949) but once he went down the trad pop path, unlike Arnold and Reeves, his music was a lot more straight down the line. He may have taken some country sounds with him but the overwhelming feel is a trad pop one. And that is one reflected in the charts. His charting singles made the pop charts but not the country charts whereas Reeves and Arnold charted on both charts. Later when his pop career closed (due to rock n roll no doubt) he moved into country and had straight country hits.
But, in 1957 Rusty is still riding high as a trad pop singer.
So, as much as I would have loved hearing an album of Hoagy Carmichael songs done by a country singer an album of Hoagy songs done by a trad pop singer is more obvious, but no less pleasing.
I love Hoagy Carmichael.
I picked up a Hoagy Carmichael compilation album as a teen (after seeing him in movies) way back when and fell in love with his tunes and his distinctive delivery. Carmichael himself only put out about two (?) proper albums during the album era (post 1952) as most of his material was written in the 1920s and 1940s.
A lot has been written about Hoagy Carmichael (1899 – 1981) and it's hard trying to find a good quote that sums him up in a couple of lines so I'll just use the one on wikipedia: "American composer and author Alec Wilder wrote of Carmichael in American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950 that he was the "most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented" of the hundreds of writers composing pop songs in the first half of the 20th century"
And, importantly Hoagy's co-writers are no slouches either – Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser et al … these guys are all legends. We aren't talking Stock Aitken Waterman rubbish here.
It's important to remember here (something we rock era listeners tend to forget because we like our "words") that Hoagy was primarily a melodist and the co-writers were usually, but not always, the lyricists. But he sang those songs first. So those words belong to him even though he didn't write them, right?
There is a tradition in popular music, and in American music, which was lost to the rock era and that is the more "valuable" or at least the better paid partner in the music partnership (if one is needed) is the person who writes the music not the lyricist. That tradition is one that goes back to tin pan alley down through Hoagy Carmichael but can be traced to Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson (he did both but you would be surprised how many lyrics he didn't write) and others.
Of course you need both and when they click they are magnificent, I just point this out because there is an assumption that some of these songwriting legends are primarily lyricists.
Words are important to convey meaning, the singer is important to deliver the meaning in the words, but, the words are only memorable because of the melody.
For Rusty Draper to tackle Hoagy it was, probably, a no brainer.
This was Rusty's second long player. There being little faith in albums back then this was not surprising … Rusty was consider a singles act, even if he was a successful one. There was an assumption that apart from certain artists like Sinatra the public would not buy pop singers on album. And, on this occasion, the label was right as the album didn't chart. No singles charted off it either (assuming singles were released from it … and Rusty was charting that year with other singles). Interestingly, Rusty never had an album chart in the US.
As Eugene Chadbourne (what is Eugene Chadbourne doing reviewing this!?) points out in the allmusic review from the album cover you would expect this album to be low key … and that's how it should be. Carmichael sounds best in small combos or better still just vocalist and piano. But to be fair Carmichael himself on his 50s albums recorded, not with a full orchestra, but with a large combo and it was the 50s, and rock 'n' roll had come … everything was big, loud, glossy and in your face.
Rusty meets the challenge. And this is a good example of trad pop "Americana". In fact the liner notes refer to this album as "Americana" with all its lack of pretension and bombast , hair down, down to earth American feeling. It may not be all that but with Hoagy Carmichael's sensitive melodies, which aren't obscured, and the sophisticated rustic lyrics there is more than an element of truth to it.
And, whilst he doesn't have the balls of Frankie Laine or the voice of Guy Mitchell of the style of Dean you have to give him credit …. he does an album of Hoagy Carmichael songs.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Georgia on My Mind – (Hoagy Carmichael / Stuart Gorrell) – a magnificent song. It needs a little more subtlety though
- Ole Buttermilk Sky – (Jack Brooks / Hoagy Carmichael) – This one works with oomph. I love this tune.
- Ole Rockin' Chair – (Hoagy Carmichael) – nice but not stellar. I think Rusty is trying to sound black.
- In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening – (Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer) – Excellent…as good as Dean Martin's version of the same.
- Judy – (Hoagy Carmichael / Sammy Lerner) – nice and low key.
- Hong Kong Blues – (Hoagy Carmichael) – Bouncy and excellent with Rusty is particularly fine voice.
- Lazy Bones – (Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer) – This is a magnificent song. The lyric and music perfectly compliment each other. Draper sings well with a touch of Bing Crosby (ho had done it)
- Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief – (Hoagy Carmichael / Paul Francis Webster) – almost a novelty song but with some sharp lyrics … and quite funny.
- Moon Country – (Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer) – Nice, a very evocative song of the South
- My Resistance Is Low – (Harold Adamson / Hoagy Carmichael) – a favourite of mine. One of the first Hoagy Carmicahel songs I heard. I saw him singing it in a film where he plays a piano player (naturally enough), "The Las Vegas Story" (1952) with Jane Russell and Victor Mature. I liked the film and though he was cool.
- Lazy River – (Sidney Arodin / Hoagy Carmichael) – A great song. But Rusty at the end of the song isn't as convincing as others on the same.
- Small Fry – (Hoagy Carmichael / Frank Loesser) – another sharp song
Rusty sounds like he's a copying a number of other singers (not just Hoagy) on the various songs but he doesnt hit any bad notes so it is all good. And, the band is good …. I'm keeping it.
Georgia on My Mind
Ole Buttermilk Sky
In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
Hong Kong Blues
My Resistance Is Low