Frankie & Johnny is one of the more familiar and frequently interpreted songs of traditional folk origins, with (say the liner notes to this comp) more than 300 versions. This CD, as the subtitle makes clear, has 15 of them. True, it may not include some of the more famous ones, like the covers by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and Stevie Wonder (not to mention the twisted one sung in the A Prairie Home Companion film by Lindsey Lohan). But it does have its share of big names, among them Louis Armstrong, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmie Rodgers, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, and Ethel Waters. As those names alone signify, it's rather more jazzy and bluesy in orientation than you might expect, as the song's most often thought of as a folk tune, not a jazz number. It also goes without saying that it, like all albums devoted to multiple versions of the same song, might not be something you'll pull out all that often, as so many successive renditions of the same tune might be too much even for sincere "Frankie & Johnny" lovers. Within these limitations, this anthology is quality entertainment, offering acceptably varied and diverse interpretations of this oft-covered piece of material. Lena Horne's five-minute version stands out for its eerie, almost ghoulish torch song ambience; Champion Jack Dupree's take almost sounds like something Lloyd Price might have done in the days when R&B was evolving into rock & roll; Ellington's arrangement is actual hot swing jazz; and Jimmie Rodgers summons his customary yodel. There are also a handful of performers who aren't so familiar to the general public, like Jewell Long, Fate Marable's Society Syncopators, Isham Jones, and the trio of Tommy Jarrell, Oscar Jenkins, and Fred Cockerham, who do it up with an Appalachian folk feel. But such an anthology deserves lengthier liner notes than this package has, not to mention at least the dates of the original recordings.
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