Chris Connor Sings Lullabys For Lovers – Bethlehem/Verse Music mono BCP 1002, 21:08 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
(Chris Connor – vocals; Art Mardigan – drums; [Vinnie Burke Quartet] Ronny Odrich – clarinet/flute; Joe Cinderella – guitar; Don Burns – accordion; Vinnie Burke – bass)
In the early 1950s, Bethlehem Records was a short lived but highly regarded jazz record label that was formed by a Swiss expatriate named Gus Wildi. His intention was to record new young talent from the West Coast Cool School and East Coast Bop giving them complete artistic freedom. During the decade prior to its demise in the early 60s, the label produced some 250 albums with the likes of Chris Connor, Oscar Pettiford, Nina Simone, Charles Mingus, Johnny Hartman, and Sam Most among many others.
Recently, Verse Music Group purchased all the back catalogue belonging to the label with the intention of re-releasing most, if not all of the albums as they originally appeared, with their iconic and artistic covers, in a variety of formats including CDs, vinyl albums and in digital format exclusively on iTunes. One of Bethlehem’s early stars was singer Chris Connor who during her time with the label recorded three interesting and highly regarded albums including her solo debut Sings Lullabys For Lovers. Originally released in 1954 as a 10” LP, the eight song set comes in at a slender twenty-one plus minutes. Backed by the Vinnie Burke Quartet plus Art Mardigan on drums, the band provides sympathetic support for Connor who sings in a smoky cool vocal style on all eight tracks.
Just prior to this initial release, for a five month period from 1952-53, Connor was with the Stan Kenton band where she learned to use her voice as an instrument rising above the powerful band and projecting her sense of dynamics. This period also produced her first hit “All About Ronnie” for which she was remember for the balance of her career. As for this release, it is a mixture of ballads and up-tempo swingers, starting with Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” which gives Connor a chance to show off her full control of ballad lines and that is again exemplified on “Cottage For Sale”. When she tackles the upbeat numbers such as “Out Of This World”, “Stella By Starlight” and “Gone With The Wind” she does so persuasively with taste, panache, and a bright appreciativeness of the lyrics.
On June 06, 2008 Marc Myers in his blog JazzWax interviewed Connor and described her singing along these lines: “what makes Chris so important as a jazz artist is her unrivaled ability to sing with both fearless abandon and transparent tenderness.”
TrackList: Lush Life; Out Of This World; Cottage For Sale; How Long; Goodbye; Stella By Starlight; Gone With The Wind; He’s Coming Home