Sammy Davis, Jr.

California Suite

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In terms of sheer novelty, California Suite (1964) ranks right up there with All-Star Spectacular (1962), an album featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.'s uncanny impressions of other celebrities. For the first half of this collection, Davis and Marty Paich (arranger/conductor) have created an unusual spoken word narrative intertwined among selections extracted from Mel Tomé's California Suite (1949). The story finds Davis defending the Golden State to Eddie -- an East coast acquaintance -- "who doesn't mind visiting California, but wouldn't want to live there." Davis' musical travelog drives through rousing renditions of "West Coast Is the Best Coast," "Got a Date on the Golden Gate," "They Go to San Diego," "Sunday Night in San Diego," "La Jolla," and "Poor Little Extra Girl." The nearly 25-minute affair culminates in a power-packed medley and finale, bringing all of the elements back together again. Although Davis provides a majority of the narration, according to the LP jacket he is joined by a number of "Participants in the Party Sequence" such as actor Vic Morrow and Mel Tormé, the Velvet Fog himself. The second half of the record presents six additional Tormé-penned ballads that are perfectly suited to Paich's refined scores. His hearty and cordial interpretations rival the work of Davis' rat-pack contemporaries Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, especially the soulful down and out anthems "A Stranger Called the Blues" and the commiserating "Welcome to the Club." While arguably out of context, concluding the album is a warm and heartfelt version of "Christmas Song" (aka "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"). It's status as the definitive Tormé composition makes its inclusion practically compulsory, and enthusiasts will undoubtedly find it an enticing timepiece.

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