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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Keely Smith Is Under Our Skin

A Discography

The Later Years

Keely After her stint at Reprise, Keely Smith recordings become much more obscure. There are several singles on various labels that didn't make much noise but she did introduce the Bacharach-David standard One Less Bell to Answer, later made popular by The Fifth Dimension.

Reissuing Keely Smith on compact disc has been a slow process, but now, with the exception of her Reprise recordings, she's well documented.

I'm In Love Again (1985)
Fantasy Records

This was Keely's big comeback and it's super. Veteran West Coast Jazz musicians like Bud Shank and Bob Cooper accompany Keely on a varied selection of songs and Keely rises to the occasion, apparently having a good time in the process. Her voice, oddly enough, seems better now but we have no complaints about I'm In Love Again.

This was released on CD for about ten minutes and then withdrawn. And that's a crime in our book!

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Louis Prima, Keely Smith and Sam Butera
The Complete Recordings
Bear Family Records

Is it possible to have too much fabulous music? No. Therefore we recommend the Complete Recordings to anyone without reservations. In addition to all of Keely's solo Capitol recordings, you get all the seminal Louis & Keely discs and even solos by Sam Butera, their pivotal bandleader. He was a force of nature himself.

Keely's recordings are arranged chronologically on two discs, so if you love the albums, the order is going to be different. As a bonus, you get to hear two versions of I Wish You Love, one slightly peppier than the other, and all of Keely's singles, none of which are great, but who cares with all this other bounty?

The accompanying booklet has lots of great photos but not so informative liner notes, which is a shame since there's not a lot of information on them available.

The eight-CD box is somewhat pricey, but if you love Louis & Keely, you're going to get it eventually so we say break down and get a copy. It's become one of our most treasured possessions.

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Spotlight on...Keely Smith
Capitol Records
Arranged & Conducted by Nelson Riddle & Billy May

A collection of her Capitol recordings. This is a great place to start if you are looking to buy a Keely Smith CD.

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The Best of the Capitol Years (1990)
Capitol Records (U.K.)
Arranged & Conducted by Nelson Riddle & Billy May

Despite the title, this is actually complete versions of the LPs Politely and I Wish You Love.

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Live Guard Sessions with Count Basie (1992)
Jazz Band

Keely sings on every other track and provides wooden narration (think of her performance in Robert Mitchum's Thunder Road) with Basie and the host on this 1963 radio show. It's pretty good but only hints at what could have been had Basie and Keely seriously teamed up for an album.

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Various Artists: The Sullivan Years: Great Ladies of Jazz (1995)
TVT Records

Keely sings again with Basie on two tracks, Bill and Let Me Call You Sweetheart. Also features Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Carmen McCrae, Chris Connor and Sarah Vaughan.

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Politely / Swingin' Pretty (2000)
Collector's Choice
arranged by Billy May and Nelson Riddle

At long last, two of her seminal albums have been re-released domestically.

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Swing, Swing, Swing (2000)
Concord Jazz
Arranged by Dennis Michaels and Don Menza

If there ever was an album that didn't need to be made, this is it. While the arrangements are better, it revisits the weirdness of Keely Smith singing Louis & Keely hits, or similar songs, by herself, on Reprise's That Ol' Black Magic. Just as Louis Prima was not a ballad singer of merit, Keely should not be attempting 16 tracks in the old Louis & Prima style by herself. Hearing her sing "Oh, Louie!" instead of "Oh, Marie!", the original lyric sung by Prima, is like a big glass of orange juice after brushing your teeth. In fact, we find ourselves wincing a lot when we listen to this disc.

The saving grace is Keely's voice. It's just as glorious as ever.

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Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre:
Kiss Me Kate, Guys & Dolls, South Pacific and Finian's Rainbow
Reprise Records

All four albums have been reissued on the otherwise negligent Reprise label. The new sound is great but the vocals sound so separate from the band that it makes one ponder whether the recordings were made "live". Probably not.

See The Reprise Years.

Keely Sings Sinatra
Pirate Recording

This is the best album by Keely, or most anyone, you're not hearing. Recorded several years ago, it's Keely in the old Capitol studios with a huge band and arrangements by Billy May and some new arrangers that have listened to a lot of Nelson Riddle. In addition to all high standards, there's the voice. What a swell freak of nature it is: smoky, full and almost exactly the same as it was in the 1950s. It may have mellowed around the edges but it hasn't frayed.

The reason you haven't heard this recording is because it hasn't been released. A second (or third) generation pirate recording has been floating around, showing up on Ebay and at even some major outlets that specialize in vocalists and show tunes, much to Smith's dismay. Despite the brilliant performance, Keely and her management decided to postpone the release of the project for the time being and push her Neo-Swing CD. The problem is that the Swing CD had a shelf life of about 10 minutes. It wasn't hip enough to attract the neo-swing crowd except as an interesting footnote and any fan of classic pop would quickly become bored. Keely Sings Sinatra would appeal to anyone, from the fans of Diana Krall and Michael Feinstein, to the Swingers who know what's what to the fans of classic popular music who pay top dollar to see Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett.

There is a certain amount of pandering to Sinatra, changing lyrics to include him and to refer to herself as the Indian, or "injun". It makes us uncomfortable and we want to yell, "Shut up and sing!" But this was recorded as a birthday tribute just before Sinatra died and apparently he was pleased. There will need to be some editing done if it ever gets released.

There are many highlights but the real surprise is Keely almost wailing on It Was a Very Good Year. It's taken uptempo and Keely is clearly swinging with the band, encouraging them to go "Higher! Higher!"

The buzz is this will soon be released by Concord Records sometime in 2001. Let's hope so.

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