Though Keely Smith appeared in many films and recorded with Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, she's best known as Louis Prima's deadpan sidekick and longtime vocal foil. Smith and Prima were such fixtures on the Las Vegas strip in the '50s and '60s that Smith still claims the title "First Lady of Las Vegas." (She was also Prima's fourth wife.)
Swing, Swing, Swing
is a comeback album for Smith, now 68, and it's clearly an attempt to cash in on the swing craze. Though the music revels in Vegas-style kitsch, it also swings ferociously, and Smith is in fine form with a voice that hasn't changed much since 1958. With Swing, Swing, Swing
, she manages to revive the Italian scattin' spirit of Louis Prima, no easy task for a woman of Irish-Indian descent.
Backing Smith is The Frank Capp Orchestra, an expanded version of the Frank Capp Juggernaut, an underrated Basie-style big band. Drummer Capp and company roar through these 16 tracks with style and intensity. Smith may not be a top-flight jazz singer she's more Eydie Gorme than Ella Fitzgerald but her alto voice is still a sultry and distinctive instrument, and she still scats with the best of them. Most importantly, she knows how to throw a great party.
The first eight tracks here swing as hard as anything I've heard since Lisa Stanfield's big band release of 1999. The album is laden with songs made famous by Prima and his jumpin' band Sam Butera and the Witnesses. There's "When You're Smiling/The Sheik of Araby," "Robin Hood/Oh Babe," "Jump, Jive An' Wail" (lately revived by Brian Setzer and that Gap commercial), and Prima's most famous composition, "Sing, Sing, Sing" (two versions of which are included under the title "Swing, Swing, Swing").
The band comes on too strong in spots, and the kitsch wears thin on goofy tunes like "Yata Hei" and "Giddy Up Ding Dong." Still, Smith sets your toes to tappin' and puts a big smile on your face with this one.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Cherry Poppin' Daddies got nothin' on Keely Smith.