Chris Conner – Sings Gentle Bossa Nova – Just A Memory Records JAM 91672 33:28 ***:
Good musicians sometimes make bad business decisions that ultimately affect their profession. Chris Connor is an example. When Chris left the Stan Kenton Band in 1953—after gaining some airplay and recognition for the tune “All About Ronnie”—she embarked on a solo singing career, first with the Bethlehem label, and then Atlantic Records. With her cool, smokey, vibrato-free voice, she established herself as a singer with a unique style, and a dedicated jazz following. She cut a number of well-received albums for both labels, and seemed on her way to a career that might match that of her idol Peggy Lee. However in 1962 at the suggestion of her then manager Monte Kay, she left Atlantic to sign with FM Records, a company in which Kay had a financial interest. This proved to be a disaster both musically and financially, and the label folded after two years.
For a period Chris was without a record contract, and lost some traction with her fan base. When she signed with ABC Paramount in 1965, their vision of what would sell was not without challenges. The company began with a change into pop music which led to this album, and a further release in 1966 entitled “Chris Connor Now”. Neither of the projects sold very well. The pop fans did not embrace her style, and her jazz fans abandoned her. Chris left the label after the two albums, and it was not until the early 1970s that she re-positioned herself as a jazz vocalist, but the promise of that early success was never fully regained.
“Sings Gentle Bossa Nova” is not without its charms once past the unfortunate choices such as “A Hard Day’s Night “and “Downtown” neither of which was meant to be taken in a bossa nova vein, and are incompatible to Connor’s voice and phrasing. Pat Williams, who at the time of the original recording was still a relatively unknown arranger-conductor, caught the essence of Chris’ voice in several tunes. ”A Taste Of Honey” and “The Shadow Of Your Smile” use strings to great effect, and the brass background on “Feeling Good” harkens back to some of her 1950s releases, although her voice on this recording has more depth and timbre. Even the melancholy “Who Can I Turn To” comes out safe and sound.
The tracks on the balance of the disc are again a mixed bag. The arrangements by Pat Williams on the most interesting tunes save the day, and give Chris a chance to explore her vocal strengths. She is particularly effective on the Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’ tune “Can’t Get Over The Bossa Nova”, Henry Mancini’s “Dear Heart” and the most unlikely composition Acker Bilk’s “Stranger On The Shore”.
This reissue by the Canadian label Just A Memory Records was remastered by Rudy Van Gelder which ensures terrific sound quality. However why the label decided to offer this particular album to the market is a mystery, given its lack of success first time out in 1965. With the number of more interesting Chris Connor titles available, this one is only for those discography junkies who are looking to complete their collection.
TrackList: A Hard Days Night; Downtown; A Taste Of Honey; The Shadow Of Your Smile; Feeling Good; Who Can I Turn To; Can’t Get Over The Bossa Nova; A Quiet Thing; Dear Heart; Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte; Baby The Rain Must Fall; Stranger On The Shore.
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