In the 1930s and '40s, while starring in one Broadway musical after another, Ethel Merman made occasional forays into the recording studio, usually to cut songs from her shows. The era of the original Broadway cast album didn't get started until 1943, with the success of Oklahoma!, but Merman cut 23 songs at eight sessions for RCA Victor, Brunswick, Liberty Music Stores, and Decca between 1932 and 1940, singing songs like "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "Anything Goes." There are 18 of those tracks reproduced here, along with six from Decca's 1946 cast album for Annie Get Your Gun. If you're wondering why there are no tracks from Merman shows like Call Me Madam and Gypsy, the answer is simple. European copyright law puts recordings over 50 years old in the public domain, and with a 1998 release date, this album wasn't entitled to use that material, without getting permission and paying a licensing fee, that is. The sound quality on the earlier tracks is only OK, while the recordings from Annie Get Your Gun are much better; but then, they probably were purloined directly from another CD. The tracks are sequenced randomly, so that the young Merman is juxtaposed against the middle-aged one. Annotations are skimpy; Tony Watts provides brief, generic biographical notes, and, along with the song titles, that's it. (The songwriters aren't even noted, which is unusual, even for a budget release like this one.) There are better collections of this material, but there may not be cheaper ones.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
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