Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Julie London – who died in 2000 age 74 – was what Hollywood folks used to call “a looker”. And she was.
She went from elevator operator to the silver screen on the basis of her striking beauty and how much the cameras – still and movie – loved her. She wasn't much of an actress however (she was in the excellent film-noir The Fat Man of '51 with Rock Hudson).
But as a smoky and slightly steamy singer, longtime admirer of Billie Holiday and her ability to sell a lyric, she had a considerable career as a jazzy vocalist and was enormously popular in the Fifties.
Her signature song was the terrific Cry Me a River which she recorded in '55 (with guitarist Barney Kessel) and was released years before Ella Fitzgerald's version.
When she sang it in the rock'n'roll film The Girl Can't Help It (which starred Jayne Mansfield but more importantly featured Fats Domino, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and others) it became a hit.
She released about 20 albums in a decade until 1965, although admittedly there were diminishing sales returns.
But as a sultry torch singer who could gently swing, Julie London was much loved and her albums still stand up as models of cool sophistication. And many come in covers which play up her sexuality in images (see Julie) and titles, such as Calendar Girl, Make Love to Me, Your Number Please . . .
American singer Lyn Stanley is not just an admirer of London but has had her ear on contemporary standards. On her Interludes album in '15 she offered a slippery, nightclub treatment of Led Zepp's Whole Lotta Love which she pulled off. (Check it out on Spotify)
So it's no surprise that on this “toast” to London amid the songs of Julie she eases in a neatly understated version of Marvin Gaye's Heard It Through the Grapevine, It's Impossible (made famous by Perry Como, also covered by late-period Elvis) and a version of the Doors' Light My Fire which has some flamenco drama.
Of course such inclusions are more than just interesting but essential because there is such a lot of London's original material now available on streaming sites . . . which in many ways defeats the purpose of tribute albums unless they significantly revise the originals.
And aside from some of the arrangements Stanley plays a very straight bat to these songs, many of which are among London's signature songs (Goody Goody), or familiar (Bye Bye Blackbird, As Time Goes By with a Latin shuffle, a sensual Blue Moon, Summertime in a full band and solo with piano versions, Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye . . .).
There are some fine musicians here, among them bassists Chuck Berghofer (who actually worked with Julie London) and Michael Valerio; Stanley's longtime guitarist John Chiodini (with studio or touring credits for Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson and others); pianists Mike Garson (yes, the Bowie, St Vincent guy!) and Christian Jacob.
This is an extremely accomplished and very enjoyable late-night album but if it seems we have spoken as much here about Julie London as Lyn Stanley it is because London deserves to be heard still, which is no doubt the generous reason behind this selection.
If Stanley – who is an excellent singer and interpreter in this genre – points you to London with this then she, you and London win on both counts.
And no, she doesn't cover the Clash.