JIMMY SCOTT Falling In Love Is Wonderful (Rhino)
Jimmy Scott first came to prominence singing "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" with Lionel Hampton's big band, his near-falsetto voice and boyish looks resulting from Kallman's Syndrome, a phenomenon in which normal hormonal development is inhibited. In 1962, Ray Charles offered to record him for his new Tangerine label, for which "Falling In Love Is Wonderful" became the first release. However, it was barely in the shops for a month before contractual wrangles with a previous label caused the album to be withdrawn, a state in which it has remained for four decades. Short of stumping up $800 on eBay, this Rhino CD reissue is the general public's first opportunity to purchase this music in all that time, music that no less an authority than Marvin Gaye called "calming, haunting and just plain beautiful".
On a first listen to "Falling In Love Is Wonderful" you might be somewhat disappointed, baffled even, wondering how to connect it to the gushing praise in learned sleevenotes written by Joel Dorn and David Ritz, amongst others. Despite the obvious pedigree of these songs - chosen from the catalogues of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hart - it takes a good few plays for 21st century ears to become accustomed to an album with such a narrow range of tempos and arrangements. But persevere and the colour gradually floods into these initially monochromatic recordings, revealing them to be works of true greatness.
First there's Scott's laconic, laid-back delivery, always a little way behind the beat. Never mind ABC, he can rewrite the entire lexicon of love just by crooning the lines "They say that falling in love is wonderful/It's wonderful, so they say". The words hang heavy with yearning, carried along by the feeling of being an outsider looking in. Next there's those orchestrations, uniformly slow and sumptuous, they soon become intoxicating. And as the icing on the cake, sitting to the left of the soundstage, there's Brother Ray and his tinkling ivories. Never ostentatious, his subtle, restrained playing quietly but authoritatively hits the spot - check his exquisite, exploratory soloing on "How Deep Is The Ocean", for example. The whole never comes together better than on the immaculate version of "Someone To Watch Over Me" captured here, the aural equivalent of goosebumps.
It's these gentle cadences and nuances that carry this album, that make it something totally alien to the kind of crass instant gratification that passes for popular culture these days, and all the more remarkable for it. Rhino's CD issue is clean and clear enough, save some rather overemphatic stereo and the jarring moment at the conclusion of "Sunday, Monday Or Always" when the master tape appears to run out and a hen's teeth-rare vinyl pressing takes over to fill in the gap. But, such petty niggles aside, if there's a romantic bone in your body you surely can't fail to be moved by the contents of this wonderful album.