A Touch of Gold was recorded and released in 1966 and was thought to be a great departure for the hard-swinging jazzman. The set featured a full backing band with horns and strings and a backing vocal chorus arranged by Charlie Callello. The tunes were regarded derogatorily in many quarters as "pop songs" -- and it may be exactly why Byrd loved them. "In My Room (El Amor)" by Lee Rockriss borrow its opening statement from George Gershwin's "Summertime." Byrd, of course, moves through its beautiful Latin modes and harmonies effortlessly, allowing the rhythms full, free-range play inside it. Likewise his bossa version of "The Shadow of your Smile," where samba rhythms permeated the arrangements and Byrd's solo that played counterpoint to the melody, and in places enhanced the lyric of the tune rather than took away from it. Other surprises on the set are a trio of Beatles covers in "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Yesterday," and "Michelle." Byrd's adherence to the melody and the illustrative brass section on the former offered a very "South of the Border" feel that broke it briefly into a swinging, progressive, big-band item. On the last, a brief but beautiful string prologue advances the theme inconspicuously before Byrd brings his shimmering faux flamenco style to the body of the main melody. Byrd's knowledge of the intricate harmonics in these pieces is rather remarkable. Indeed, no less a voice than Orrin Keepnews predicted the tracks would be known as standards in a short time. And he was right in no small part simply because Byrd covered them and adult audiences were exposed to the complex and adventurously accessible music of the Beatles. But there is more than lilting love song sentiment in Byrd's take on popular music. Listen to his humorous reading of the theme from Bonanza!, or even his wooly version of the barroom/strip club anthem "Walk Right In." These cuts have their vulgarities, but they are not without elegance because Byrd was the king of class. As for evidence, if anyone needs more, they need listen no further than his utterly moving version of Ervin Drake's "It Was a Very Good Year," that was closely associated with Sinatra during this juncture -- and virtually owned by him in performance every year after. This may not be the Charlie Byrd recording to start with, but anyone deeply interested in his music should seriously consider checking this one out as well. Two full albums on a single CD? What are you waiting for?
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