However listeners may receive this "new" album from Sounds of Yesteryear, there's no gainsaying its title, Connor SingsKenton Swings,
as that secures its contents in a neat little box with no loose ends in sight. There's also no denying that these seventeen songs by vocalist Chris Connor
and the dynamic Stan Kenton
Orchestra were recorded more than sixty-five years ago. In terms of performance, the impact is negligible; in terms of sound, not as harmful as one might imagine.
Yes, the orchestra does sound rather strident and unbalanced at times on these live dates from 1953, as orchestras were wont to do before recording techniques became more polished, but Connor's inherently strong voice is mic'd so closely that there's no chance she'd ever be overshadowed by the band. In fact, the reverse is often true, with Connor recorded so tightly that she sometimes skirts the edges of distortion (and even slips once or twice over the edge). Be that as it may, the historic value of these concert dates is significant, as Connor was Kenton's featured vocalist for less than six months but made her mark with such chart-toppers as "Jeepers Creepers," "If I Should Lose You," "Tenderly," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "There Will Never Be Another You," "I'll Remember April," "Taking a Chance on Love" and especially her signature song, "All About Ronnie" (all of which are included here in concert performances).
In spite of her undeniable success, however, Connor remains an acquired taste. Her voice is certainly distinctive, somewhere between June Christy
and Anita O'Day
with a trace of Jeri Southern
, her mannerisms as unique as they are charming to some and vexing to others. As a band singer Connor was as good as most, better than many. While her strong points included clarity and charisma, one trait that wasn't nearly as engaging was her ardor. In most cases, Connor sang
a lyric far better than she felt
it, something that was most clear on ballads, love songs or themes of despondency and loss. Whatever the verdict in that corner, however, there is never any doubt that one is listening to Chris Connor and no one else. On the other hand, Kenton, whose resonant baritone served as the "voice" of the orchestra, couldn't seem to stop himself from introducing her as "Chris Connors," which he does several times on the album. There is also a brief interview in which Kenton, discussing Connor's abrupt departure from the band, describes her as emotionally unstable.
As a showcase for Connor and the Kenton Orchestra, Connor SingsKenton Swings
is about as good as it gets, with trim solos by trumpeter Conte Candoli
, trombonist Bobby Burgess
, guitarist Sal Salvador
and others thrown in for added weight. For Kenton enthusiasts, that should be more than enough to carry the day.