2 LPs on 1 CD: JONI SWINGS SWEET (1959)/BOSSA NOVA STYLE (1964).
This single-CD two-fer includes a pair of vintage pop titles from vocalist Joni James. By the time she issued Joni Swings Sweet (1959), James had already become one of America's top pop vocalists. Here, James showcases her inimitably lyrical interpretations of a dozen well-known popular standards backed by both a full orchestra and a smaller combo. This is much in keeping with the same variety that she utilized during her legendary live shows -- which were more often than not performed to standing-room-only crowds from coast to coast as well as abroad. The album kicks off with a blast as James bops her way through a high-energy reading of "Somebody Loves Me," which sets the tone for the entire effort. That is not to say that every number is given as lively an interpretation. However, from the laid-back and breezy "Sentimental Journey" and "Too Marvelous for Words" to the lush and opulent "The Blue Room" and "It Had to Be You," the singer is in full command and unquestionably riveting throughout. The artist's sublimely tempered intonations, coupled with Chuck Sagle's equally enchanting arrangements, were firmly behind the critical and artistic success of Bossa Nova Style. The dozen sides which comprise this long-player reflect James' versatile performance intonations on some of pop music's most sinuous and sensual compositions. Much like her decidedly more masculine pop vocal counterpart, Frank Sinatra, James' inspired interpretations of these standards became the hallmark for those who followed their respective leads. From the gentle and languid readings of "While We're Young" and the haunting "Dindi" to the breezy samba of "Once I Loved" or the delightfully lilting "I Could Have Danced All Night," it seems that Joni James has rarely been more in her element than she is here. Even the rich and mellow arrangement of seminal sides such as "Girl From Ipanema" or "My Romance" and "You're Nearer" -- a pair of Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart tunes that conclude this album -- are unmistakably amended to suit James' trademark easygoing and unencumbered style. ~ Lindsay Planer