It's really quite amazing to read anything about the late jazz vocalist Irene Kral. I've never seen anything less than superlative adjectives applied to her all-too-brief career. The younger sister of singer-pianist Roy Kral (Jackie & Roy) who died in July 2002, she spent some time with Maynard Ferguson's band in 1957 and Herb Pomeroy's organization in Boston in '58. I've always enjoyed her presence as Eliza Doolittle on Shelly Manne's 1964 My Fair Lady with the Unoriginal Cast, in which she sings with, and without, a clowning Jack Sheldon as Henry Higgins.
After leaving the business in the mid 1960s to raise a family, Irene Kral returned to record a series of ballad albums with pianist-arranger Alan Broadbent and a final work with Loonis McGlohan, before succumbing to breast cancer in 1978. Which brings us to Where is Love, recorded in 1976. It's been almost 30 years since it was released and I haven't heard my vinyl copy in a while (well... decades), so I don't mind telling you that if I had my Desert Island Discs all lined up, Kral's would certainly be represented.
With just a spare piano accompanyment, the vocalist tackles nine very well chosen ballads that are meant not only to entertain us but to advise us about the compositions of singer-songwriters like Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg and Blossom Dearie. Her "Lucky To Be Me"/"Some Other Time" medley are two of the best reasons to see the Leonard Bernstein-Comden/Green musical Wonderful Town (just revived in NYC). It's no wonder that musicians like Bill Evans/Mark Murphy/Fred Hersch have gravitated to recording these tunes. Her unhurried and moving delivery opens up the lyrical content of show tunes like the title song from Oliver or Leslie Bricusse's "When I Look In Your Eyes." I defy you to find a better recording of "Love Came On Stealthy Fingers" or the jazz chanteuse standard "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most."
Although Kral chose to perform in a low-key manner in her final years, she was a fine interpreter of mid- and up-tempo vocals. Clint Eastwood was well aware of this when he chose two of her selections with the Junior Mance Trio to use in his Bridges of Madison County film. When the Eastwood character wanted to demonstrate the power of jazz music circa 1965, he turned on the truck radio and received her versions of "It's A Wonderful World" and "This is Always."
I Like You,You're Nice, When I Look in Your Eyes, A Time For Love/Small World, Love Came On Stealthy Fingers, Never Let Me Go, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, Lucky To Be Me/Some Other Time, Where is Love?, Don't Look Back