By the time he wrote these twelve charts for Rosemary Clooney in 1960, Nelson Riddle had made musical history throughout the 1950s with the epoch-making albums he arranged for Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and most of all, Frank Sinatra. He had also been working with Clooney for several years as the musical director of her television show, and the closeness and warmth of that association comes across on the album they cut together, which someone at RCA shamelessly decided to name Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle!, not even sparing the exclamation point at the end.
|Riddle and Clooney several years after this project|
"Get Me to the Church on Time," which is brassy but more understated than one would think. The next tune, "Angry," pretty much fits the same mold, while Hoagy Carmichael's reflective ballad, "I Get Along Without You Very Well," is taken at a much sprightlier tempo than other versions by, say, Sinatra or Chet Baker. In the hands of Clooney and Riddle, it is a ballad that swings easily but that does not lose any of its introspective quality. The two reach back in time quite a bit on some of the tracks: that is the case with the Gene Austin-associated "How Am I to Know" (with lyrics by Dorothy Parker), beautifully punctuated by saxophone solos from Plas Johnson. Other songs included in the album that often hark back to the old vaudeville days are "I Ain't Got Nobody," Shelton Brooks's "Some of These Days," "Shine on Harvest Moon," and the Ethel Waters classic "Cabin in the Sky," all of which demonstrate Clooney's appreciation of first-class pop and jazz-inflected songwriting.
"You Took Advantage of Me," Riddle's writing is clearly reminiscent of his work with Sinatra on Songs for Swinging Lovers and A Swingin' Affair, and Rosie's singing, underscored by George Roberts's clever work on trombone, shows how important lyrics always were to her when it came to interpreting a song. The Latin-tinged arrangement of "April in Paris" is initially driven by Jack Costanzo on bongos, but toward the end of the chart, the orchestra takes over and supports Clooney's vocals in style. Annotator Levinson calls "By Myself," written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz and revived by Fred Astaire in the movie The Band Wagon, "the gem of this CD," and in the light of the seamless interaction between Clooney and the orchestra, it is hard to argue with him. But then the album is really a gem as a whole, and by the time we reach the last track, "Limehouse Blues," we are more than ready to overlook the occasional gimmicks that Riddle employs on this Asian-influenced melody, which actually works very well as a closer. It is to this record what, say, "It Happened in Monterey" was to Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers. The CD reissue includes two bonus tracks, recorded almost a year later, in April 1961, and although "Without Love" and "The Wonderful Season of Love" (the theme from the then-current movie Return to Peyton Place) are more conventional ballads, they are worthy additions to the package and show what a good string writer Riddle was. Overall, Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle! can be considered the crown jewel of the personal and professional association between Rosemary Clooney and Nelson Riddle, a passionate romantic affair that, fortunately for us, also resulted in a most swinging musical affair.
|Rosie and Nelson at work in the studio|