Mixed emotions - on the one hand, surprise that Rosemary Clooney has reached the age of 70; on the other, gratitude that she remains at 70 one of our finest interpreters of American popular song. There aren't many who are in Rosie's league (and one less since Sinatra's passing). Mel Tormé is still on the scene, as are Tony Bennett, Vic Damone and Bobby Short, and there are some younger lions and lionesses prowling the forest - Karrin Allyson, Susannah McCorkle, Kurt Elling, Kevin Mahogany and so on - but so far at least, no one sings a song quite like Rosie. Long may she prosper. For her 70th birthday celebration, Concord Records has chosen tracks from 17 of Clooney's 22 previous releases for the label, sandwiched between two new selections, James Taylor's "The Secret of Life" and the Gershwins' "Our Love Is Here to Stay" (on which she is joined by vocalists/Clooney fans K.D. Lang and Linda Ronstadt). The result is more than 70 minutes of music that can best be described as sublime. While most of the numbers on the birthday celebration album were previously issued, chances are good that almost no one aside from the most zealous Clooney champion has heard them all. And all of them are worth hearing. At the risk of sounding like a shameless name-dropper, here's an incomplete list of those responsible for the music and lyrics: Berlin, Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Arlen/Mercer, Burke/Van Heusen, Duke Ellington, Robin/Rainger, Adler/Ross, Jerome Kern. That's an Olympian hurdle for any song writer, but James Taylor raises the bar with "Secret of Life," an absolutely marvelous opening number (arranged by Johnny Mandel) that deftly places everything else in perspective. Rosie takes it from there, interpreting each of these enduring songs as only she can. The back-up groups include the Woody Herman band ("I'm Beginning to See the Light"), the Los Angeles Jazz Choir ("Oh, What a Beautiful Morning") and such individual standouts as saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Kim Richmond, cornetist Warren Vaché, guitarist Ed Bickert and pianist/arranger John Oddo who has been at Rosie's side for years (and is featured on "Too Long at the Fair"). Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli sings a duet with Rosie on "Paper Moon," Keith Carradine is heard with her on "Turn Around," and there's that surprisingly seamless trio (Cloonely, Lang, Ronstadt) on "Love Is Here to Stay." Highlights? Start anywhere and go forward, backward or sideways. No matter; it's all superb. What a celebration! Let's hope there will be many more. Thanks, Rosie, for the first 70; they've been 24-karat gold - and don't worry; you haven't stayed too long at the fair.
Secret of Life; Oh, What a Beautiful Morning; I Got Lost in His Arms; Come Rain or Come Shine; One for My Baby; I'm Beginning to See the Light; But Beautiful; Just One of Those Things; Thanks for the Memory; It's Only a Paper Moon; (Have) I Stayed Too Long at the Fair; Hey There; Long Ago and Far Away; Turn Around; Falling in Love Again; From This Moment On; For All We Know; Ol' Man River; (Our) Love Is Here to Stay (70:22).
Various personnel including the Woody Herman Band, the L.A. Jazz Choir, Kim Richmond, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vach