Felix Slatkin

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Hoedown! Review

by Lindsay Planer

The name Felix Slatkin (arranger/conductor/violin) is synonymous with the golden age of Hollywood. In the 1940s he gained a reputation as a consummate concertmaster, commencing with the 20th Century Fox studio ensemble, then moving on to conduct the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, in addition to his own hand-picked Concert Arts Orchestra. Non-tinsel town denizens might recall Slatkin as one of Frank Sinatra's favored directors beginning in 1946 and lasting through 1963, upon Slatkin's untimely passing. He also recorded dozens of long-players, including the 12 selections on Hoedown! (1962), where he is joined by Rickey Marino (co-arranger) for these overhauls. As a perusal of the track list reveals, this collection provides an interesting combination of orchestrated classics and familiar standards, each given unique settings within their stylized presentations. Initially, the fusion of traditionals steeped in Americana -- coupled with the pomp and aural pageantry associated with an orchestra -- might at first seem like a musical misnomer. However in the spirit of Aaron Copland, the modernization takes on a distinguished, if not unique Nationalistic air. Slatkin's contributions augment the melodies, creating substantial moods, such as the stately and somewhat somber prelude to "Arkansas Traveller" and the measured locomotive score that commences "Orange Blossom Special." His influence thoroughly (if not effortlessly) incorporates the original tunes with Gordon Terry (fiddle) leading the way on a majority of the numbers. Among the standout performances are the good-natured "Turkey in the Straw," the rapid-fire "Fisher's Horn Pipe," and a carefree rendition of Ward Allen's "Back Up and Push," which is perhaps better-known via the Bill Monroe cover. Modern consumers may even identify "Golden Slippers" as having been successfully adapted into the memorable advert for Golden Grahams breakfast cereal -- and what could be more American? In 2004, when Collectors' Choice Music issued Hoedown! on to compact disc, they augmented the package with Terry's previously unavailable demos, which were presumably the basis for Slatkin and Marino's additions and revisions. The juxtaposition offers listeners a keen before and after perspective into the direction and ultimate development of the material.

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