Three cheers for Proper Records, the British label specializing in affordable and well-researched collections of jazz, blues and other great music. Properbox 130 is a four-CD anthology devoted to the first 19 years of vocalist Maxine Sullivan's recording career, including her marvelous collaborations with bandleader/accompanists Claude Thornhill, John Kirby, Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Ellis Larkins, Dick Hyman, Charlie Shavers, and Fats Waller's longtime bassist Cedric Wallace. During the period covered by this collection (June 1937 through August 1956) Maxine Sullivan handled a healthy range of material that included old-time Irish and Scottish airs, folk songs, Stephen Foster melodies, established jazz standards and Tin Pan Alley pop tunes. Everything interpreted by this remarkable young vocalist came out sounding sweet, clear, and delicately formed without any traces of friction, let alone pathos. Slow numbers sometimes assume the reassuring contours of the lullaby, giving the listener the amazing sensation of being sung to from very close at hand, almost as if she were cradling your head in her lap. The warm intimacy of her early ballad artistry acts as a potent panacea, and few singers were able to achieve and sustain this type of milk and honey tonality as beautifully as did Maxine Sullivan. Time did alter the texture; listening to her 1956 recording of Luckey Roberts' "Massachusetts" (brusquely garnished with interjections from trumpeter and vocalist Charlie Shavers), it seems that the lady's voice has begun to acquire a bit of a smoky burr and a sinuosity as fully developed as Ella Fitzgerald's. A tiny list of highlights includes Cole Porter's "Easy to Love" and "Night and Day," Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark," Gypsy classic "Dark Eyes," numerous traditional jazz standards, and a feast of tunes by Fats Waller. This is undoubtedly one of the very best Maxine Sullivan collections ever to have been assembled and brought before the public. The one functional drawback is the slim-line packaging, for even as it conserves shelf space, the mini-jacketed discs and booklet fly out of the box far too easily, making one yearn for the bulky solidity of earlier, jewel box-within-sturdy-hangar Properboxes. Every time you pick it up you run the risk of inadvertently hurling the beautifully packaged CDs across the room with the unerring accuracy of the Upper Paleolithic spear-throwing device known as the atlatl. Those who invest in this excellent set should probably tie a black ribbon around the box and bundle it in velvet like a priceless family heirloom.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf