A Time to Relax

Gene Austin

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A Time to Relax Review

by arwulf arwulf

Aside from his brief RCA Victor comeback album Restless Heart which came out in 1957, one of Texan crooner Gene Austin's only major LP era releases was This is Gene Austin, a Victor double album that appeared as a posthumous tribute shortly after his passing in 1972. Charmingly illustrated and thoughtfully annotated, This is Gene Austin was his first real retrospective album, with sixteen titles dating from the years 1927-1953. It wasn't until Take Two records brought out A Time to Relax in 1996 that a good sampling of this endearing vocalist's legacy became widely available during the digital age. In 1997 ASV/Living Era followed suit with Voice of the Southland, which covered the same temporal span as A Time to Relax (1925-1936). Seeing as in 2002 Collector's Choice spooned out a skimpy selection of only eleven songs under the heading of Singer and Songwriter, the best Gene Austin collection is still A Time to Relax. Even with less quantity than the ASV collection, A Time to Relax contains enough of the man's hits and a broad enough selection of material to earn it highest marks in a still woefully threadbare discography. Take Two's anthology opens with his early (and delightfully silly) masterpiece "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street (All the Little Birdies Go Tweet-Tweet-Tweet)," featuring hot scat singing and spunky vaudevillian interaction with comedienne Aileen Stanley. On the equally hot "Nothin'," Austin is backed by Nat Shilkret's Orchestra. From "My Blue Heaven" onward the textures change to reflect Austin's profound success as a singer of love songs, and the producers of this collection were wise to include several examples of his friendly collaboration with composer and pianist Thomas Fats Waller. Whereas "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "My Fate is in Your Hands" are familiar enough, "Rollin' Down the River" is a little known gem from the gargantuan Waller songbook. It's a pity that the Austin/Waller duets of 1939 didn't make it onto this album -- there would have been plenty enough room. Austin's other accompanists on A Time to Relax include guitarist Otto "Coco" Heimal, string bassist James "Candy" Candido and the Victor Young Orchestra. In a world filled with overstimulation, distraction, senseless cruelty and debasement, Gene Austin's recordings may be more valuable to us now than ever before. With a delivery that sometimes took on the intimate understatement of Whispering Jack Smith and a range comparable to that of Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike), his dulcet tones and innocent sentiments might be exactly what the doctor forgot to order.

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