Johnnie Ray

Live at the London Palladium

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This is an odd little document of a period in pop music that didn't leave behind too many concert recordings, though Johnnie Ray left more than his share, what with At the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and this little gem. Johnnie Ray's opening night at the London Palladium on April 5, 1954, was recorded live and released exclusively in England on the Philips label, where it was accompanied by a single of his concert rendition of "As Time Goes By." The sound is a little uneven, partly owing to technical shortcomings and the logistics of cutting Ray, who was highly animated on-stage when he wasn't at the piano and used a uniquely small-size microphone, trailing it all over the stage, plus the presence of a house band (the Sky Rockets under Eric Rogers) that was more than a little ragged. One gets a real sense of how animated Ray was, as he bounds from Nat King Cole-style soft pop to ebullient gospel-style numbers; he was the Elvis Presley of his day, teasing and rousing the female portion of the audience (who are frenzied throughout), although this performance makes a little less use of jazz and blues influences than some of his official recordings of the period. The hits are nicely represented, including "Cry" and "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," but it is some of the lesser-known numbers, like "A Hundred Years From Today," that give this disc its real value. Ray is magnificent, though the band is strictly from hunger and one wishes that he'd stuck more to his jazz and blues repertory, but fans will still love this obscure document from his British catalog.

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