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Sue Raney: The Capitol Years


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Yesterday I spent the day writing and listening to Sue Raney's Capitol recordings between 1956 and 1960. Sue's voice during this period is like a bell shrouded in mist. Somehow she managed to surround her clear, ringing intonation with a breathy huskiness, forcing you to listen and relax at the same time. It was quite a vocal trick. 

Sue's earliest Capitol discs in 1956 were singles arranged by Bob Bain. They included a thoroughly engaging and cozy rendition of The Careless Years, the movie theme from the 1957 teen drama. These singles led to Sue's first album for Capitol in December 1957—When Your Lover Has Gone, arranged by Nelson Riddle. For some reason, the songs chosen for the album positioned her as a jilted good girl. Songs included If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight), Moon Song, If You Were There and so on.

Interestingly, Riddle's touch throughout is sophisticated and akin to his framework for albums by the label's giants, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Gems from Sue's Riddle album include I Remember You, When Your Lover Has Gone and It's Easy to Remember. Her voice is seductive and sincere throughout, with cool touches. On each track, Riddle serves up instrumental surprises during the intros and close-outs. And dig Sue's vocal control on My Ideal. Wow.

Sue's eight singles arranged by Jack Marshall in 1958 are beautifully delivered, but the charts are miserable. Belabored by a sappy choral background, cornball material such as My, My How the Time Goes By and Swingin' in a Hammock did little for Sue's brand or whatever Capitol was trying to achieve with her. To Sue's credit, she sang these songs with grace and style, outclassing the material forced upon her.  

In 1959, Sue recorded her second album for Capitol—Songs for a Raney Day, arranged by Billy May. Given the album's title, it's not surprising that many of the songs were related to downpours—Rain, Rain on the Roof, Blue Tears, September in the Rain and so on. Once again, Sue was cast as a yearning, melancholy gal. May's writing here is superb on songs like September in the Rain, at one point placing flutes on top of trombones for a nifty sound. For those listeners who didn't quite get the rain-Raney pun, some of the tracks foolishly added thunderstorm sound effects.

Of Sue's four singles arranged by Bill Holman in 1960, Too Soon is the best of the bunch, a song similar in theme to Jimmy Charles' A Million to One, which was released the same year. Both were about young lovers and the struggle to overcome the doubts of adults.

Sue's last album for Capitol was All By Myself in 1963 before leaving to record for Imperial in the late '60s and '70s. She then teamed with Supersax and the L.A. Voices in the 1980s and recorded for Fresh Sound in the 1990s and 2000s. Her most recent album is Late in Life, which was recorded in 2010.

So why was Sue positioned on her Capitol albums as a teen or young adult struggling to understand love? What I neglected to tell you is that Sue was a teen when this material was recorded. Born in 1940, Sue began recording for Capitol in 1956, when she was just 16, which helps explain Capitol's song choices and confusion but doesn't explain how someone so young could have had such a mature and knowing voice. I love Sue's sound on these recordings.

JazzWax note: To read my 2012 JazzWax interview with Sue Raney, go here.

JazzWax tracks: You can find Sue's Nelson Riddle and Billy May albums as well as the singles mentioned above on Sue Raney: Complete Capitol Years 1956-1960 (Fresh Sound) here.

JazzWax clips: Here's It's Easy to Remember (dig Nelson Riddle's use of the bass clarinet and flutes on the intro and throughout). Raney here is 17 and absolutely fantastic...

Here's When Your Love Has Gone, arranged by Nelson Riddle...

And here's September in the Rain in 1959, arranged by Billy May...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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