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Judy Garland:The London Studio Recordings 1957 – 1964

Abbey Road Studios

Garland London Sessions 2

 Forty four years after her death, Judy Garland still has no peer. As the last line of John Fricke's (additional) liner notes say, “... you can't get better than that." And now, welcome one of the most definitive discs that captures the Garland voice issued to date.

 In an age where anything is possible on stage or (particularly) in a recording studio, one can only imagine what could be done to enhance the majesty of that remarkable instrument that could soar with quivering emotion one minute and dissolve to a shaky whisper the next. Well, thanks to modern technology and the considerable skills of producer Jonathan Summers and Abbey Road Studios, it's as if this remastered recording of assorted cuts was made yesterday. The period from the mid-1950s through the early-1960s, were musically productive for Garland giving us some of her most iconic performances. Gone are the saccharine-laden ditties from the MGM musicals with their jumpy, dance-fused, festive arrangements that, while earning their place of greatness from that era, were created mainly to suit characters and advance fluffy plot lines in frothy musicals with a lighthearted (or weak) storyline.

 Here, while some songs naturally date back to those years at MGM, Garland, the adult, had evolved into a more intense thrush who, like Billie Holiday, had become a definitive truth-teller. Special effects were not necessary. Her trademark trenchant honesty came from the gut more than ever and shattered in a voice aching with melodrama and an instinctive musicianship few singers have touched since. She remains in a class by herself. Welcome this collection from Abbey Road.

 

Garland action image

 

For serious collectors and fans, the results on this album represent a very special piece of popular musical history. It is a documented fact that from 1955 through 1964, Garland was one of the most celebrated, acclaimed and best-selling album artists on the EMI/ Capitol roster. On several occasions during those years, she recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. This well packaged, two-disc set cumulates her work there between October 1957 and August 1964. There are twelve previously unreleased (and fascinating) alternate takes included and, more significantly, a completely unknown and undocumented recording of a song called “Please Say Ah!” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. The entire set, produced by First Hand Records, is offered in this deluxe book-format package and released as a physical product - only not available for digital downloading.

 

The recordings were digitally remastered from the original analogue tapes at Abbey Road Studios in high definition (96kHz/24bit sound.) Jonathan Summers & FHR are producers with an assist from John Fricke. It is enough to satisfy any skeptic of her status and, of course, send her most ardent fans into a frenzy. All with good reason. As the late Frank Sinatra said in a 1964 interview in Variety, “ … A lot of us can sing. We can put over a song with a lot of style on a good night. And, it can be damn good. But, nobody can chill your spine like Judy.”

Ian Jones, who is responsible for the editing and re-mastering of the tracks, has managed to make Garland sound vibrant, current - and very present. From the opening track of Roger Eden's “It's So Lovely To Be Back Again In London” to the final track of that recently discovered “Please Say "Ah," sung here with Saul Chaplin, the clarity of the sound and the immediacy of Garland's performance make this unique disc sound like she was in the studio yesterday. Additional kudos to Peter Mew for some brilliant remixing of the “I Could Go On Singing” and “Maggie May” sessions. Judy's vocals have never sounded better.


Most all of the major Garland concert mainstays are also included here on the two discs such as the obligatory “Over The Rainbow,” “The Man That Got Away,” “Rockabye Your Baby,” “Stormy Weather,” “Swanee,” “By Myself,” “I Can't Give You Anything But Love,” and some lesser known ditties like, “There's Only One Union” and “It's Yourself.” Also included are a few “false starts” and whimsical studio chatter that give rare insight to Garland, the instinctive musician seeking perfection, and some giddiness as when Judy outs a pot smoking musician and quips: "I make tea. Dougie smokes it!"

 

Of particular interest on the disks are the outtake material. There is an intelligent fascination in the way Garland approaches so many songs quite differently each time she sings them. This happens through an uncanny ability to reinvent material on the spot. It also includes the occasional rewriting of some lyrics, the use of alternate tempos, different note choices and certain intonations on various takes on the same song. Aficionado's have noted that Garland was a more advanced musician than given credit for. For instance, four songs from Lionel Bart's “Maggie May” change rather drastically from take to take. Some have different endings, some have sections that are rather slow in one take and fast on others. Overall, it makes for amusing and insightful listening.

 Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli, has said more than once that she needs to find a character to play to or draw on while singing a song. Garland is the opposite. She needs no artifice.

It is easy to hear Garland singing straight from the heart as the listener hears her convey her own joys and sorrows with each song. At times, the power and glory of the Garland voice is over- whelming. Her wistful vulnerability is nothing less than heartbreaking. Albeit, in ferocious belting or soft crooning, it is always sincere. It is never not real. Too, like the aforementioned Billie Holiday, Garland has the keen ability to make lesser songs sound better and better material sublimely better. Also, like Holiday, she will grab an occasional vocal flaw and use it. The end result is chillingly compelling – and only adds to molding the interpretation raw and real.

 Likely, the most anticipated track on the album is “Please, Say Ah” dropped from her last film, “I Could Go On Singing.” This ditty is basically just that - a little ditty. Well sung with the film's musical supervisor, Saul Chaplin, it has a catchy, lighthearted charm factor that comes through. However, it's easy to figure out why it was cut from the final film which played out as more of a drama with concert footage as opposed to a light musical (where it might have worked.)

 Garland is at her best on these discs. This listener was taken most by the first ever release of a studio recorded version of “It Never Was You” – with a guitar accompaniment. In the film, she sings this scene live with a piano on stage at the London Palladium. Here, the guitar carries most of the song with the orchestra gliding in gently at the end. Perfection. Also included here in the outtake is

Garland negotiating with her guitarists over how softly to play the song. It shows the lady as not only a great singing artist but also a consummate musician. Jonathan Summer has written some brilliant liner notes .

Disc: One

It's Lovely To Be Back In London

Lucky Day

I Can't Give You Anything But Love

Stormy Weather

Medley: Judy At The Palace: Shine On Harvest Moon,

Some Of These Days, My Man. I Don't Care

You Go To My Head

Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody

Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe

It's A Great Day For The Irish

I Happen To Like New York

Medley: You Made Me Love You, For Me And My Gal, The Trolley Song

Why Was I Born?

Do It Again

Come Rain Or Come Shine

The Man That Got Away

Chicago

You'll Never Walk Alone

San Francisco

After You've Gone

Swanee

Over The Rainbow

 

Disc: Two

Hello Bluebird

By Myself

It Never Was You

I Could Go On Singing

The Land Of Promises

It's Yourself

Maggie, Maggie May

There's Only One Union

Lucky Day

Stormy Weather

Why Was I Born?

After You've Gone

It's A Great Day For The Irish

You'll Never Walk Alone

It's Yourself (Intro chat)

It's Yourself

The Land Of Promises

Maggie, Maggie May

Hello Bluebird

I Could Go On Singing

It Never Was You

Please Say 'Ah'

 Ultimately, as previously noted, this collection sounds as if it were recorded yesterday. It's that good. All the cuts are brilliantly remastered; it's a totally different listening experience than listening to other compilations of her greatest hits including the 1980's “Best Of Capitol Masters: London Sessions” set. Garland has never sounded better than in these recordings. The "new" tracks are a treat. The alternate takes of the "Maggie May" tracks are a rare gift and brings the songs full circle. And, it's nice to know that there is more Garland material out there for her legions of fans.
Bottom line: If you're a fan of the legendary Ms. Garland, you will not regret buying this piece of Garland history.

 

 Garland Playbill - B Gari FB