November 28, 2000
ASV/Living Era
Vocal Music, Traditional Pop, Vocal Pop, American Popular Song, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley Pop

Album Review

A contemporary of Al Jolson, Frank Crumit, and Eddie Cantor but ever so much quieter than they, World War I veteran and gas attack survivor Whispering Jack Smith was among the first singers to take advantage of the newly invented microphone as an amplifying agent in the development of the fine and subtle art of crooning. Beginning in 1925, Smith began making records and performing on-stage as well as over the radio using a disarmingly intimate, polite, and velvety smooth delivery that distinguished him from everyone else. This delightful Living Era portrait album assembles 25 of his nicest recordings in nearly chronological order, beginning with his gentle 1927 cover of Jolson's "Me and My Shadow" and stepping back to the 1925 recording of "Cecilia, Does Your Mother Know You're Out?" This and four sides of 1926 vintage were all recorded in the singer's hometown of New York City. In order to appreciate this singer's delicate persona, the listener will need to suspend all acquired notions of postmodern brusqueness, impatience, and bitterness. Whispering Jack Smith is about innocence and sentimentality -- the innocence we've never really had and the sentimentality some of us will sadly never permit ourselves to indulge in. "Gimme a Little Kiss" is cute in ways that remind us that authentic, refined cuteness is almost a lost art. Note the shrill birdcall whistling of Carson Robison at regular intervals during "When the Red, Red Robin Goes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along." Beginning with "It All Depends on You," the next eight tracks were recorded in England during Smith's frequent appearances there in musical stage revues. Smith actually does whisper at times during his beautiful renderings of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and "The Song Is Ended But the Melody Lingers On." Backed by Bert Ambrose and the Whispering Orchestra, the singer gave one of his all-time jazziest performances with Ben Pollack's "Miss Annabelle Lee." There are no less than five Ambrose/Smith collaborations included in this package. They are all exceptionally warm and reassuring. Smith's warmly received visit to Berlin in August 1928 resulted in a pair of fine recordings, one of which is sung in both English and a very delicate Deutsch. Returning to Great Britain, he cut a series of heartwarming records during the autumn of 1928 backed by Carroll Gibbons and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra. "'S Wonderful" and especially "Crazy Rhythm" anticipate the development of swing music. "All by Yourself in the Moonlight" features a funny little group vocal by the band. Back in New York in May of 1929, Smith recorded a pretty little romantic song with Leonard Joy and the Victor Orchestra, but doesn't seem to have enjoyed the popularity that he'd experienced abroad. Despite or perhaps because of the growing predominance of Bing Crosby, Smith's brand of nonchalance went slowly out of style during the 1930s. Two austere records from 1940 document his brief essay toward a comeback that never caught on.
arwulf arwulf, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Me and My Shadow
  2. Cecilia, Does Your Mother Know You're Out?
  3. Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya Huh?
  4. When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along
  5. Baby Face
  6. There Ain't No "Maybe" in My Baby's Eyes
  7. It All Depends on You
  8. Blue Skies
  9. Birth of the Blues
  10. My Blue Heaven
  11. The Song Is Ended
  12. Miss Annabelle Lee
  13. Sunshine
  14. Whispering
  15. I Kiss Your Hand, Madame
  16. Ramona
  17. 'S Wonderful
  18. Crazy Rhythm
  19. Funny Face
  20. That's My Weakness Now
  21. The Song I Love
  22. All by Yourself in the Moonlight
  23. To Be in Love, Espesh'lly with You
  24. I'm Knee-Deep in Daisies, and Head Over Heels in Love
  25. A Faded Photograph