Judy Garland

The Letter

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Conceived by arranger Gordon Jenkins as a relationship concept album (with one side each from the man and the woman), The Letter turned into something quite different when Capitol requested it be turned into Judy Garland's next LP. Garland and her narrator co-star, past Academy Award nominee John Ireland, look back at their relationship -- trading dialogue, singing reflective songs, and reading excerpts from "the letter," which he has written to her as one last plea before the end of their love affair. Jenkins' ambitious concept was written well and executed perfectly, and no one was better than Garland for a dramatic romantic role encompassing hope and humor. And yet, The Letter suffers, as all but the best concept albums do. Ireland is no match for Garland (fortunately his role is much smaller), and the few audio concepts on display tend toward gimmicks -- occasional sound effects, a humorous conversation between Garland and Ireland while a bluesman is singing at a Greenwich Village dive, and the Ralph Brewster Singers, who intrude very seldom but are stuck harmonizing at least one line that should never have been harmonized quite so reverently -- "It was just another saloon, with pretty good food." None of these songs were performed much afterwards, but they are very good; "The Worst Kind of Man," "That's All There Is, There Isn't Any More," and "The Red Balloon" would do well in anyone's repertoire. In all, The Letter is a fair concept album, its interruptions annoying but its overall power raised by the twin talents of Judy Garland and Gordon Jenkins. Capitol certainly pulled out all the stops in its recording and release; the original three-track stereo recording is exquisite, and upon its initial release, special copies of "the letter" were placed in envelopes and taped to the front of each record jacket.

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