Jack Webb

Just the Tracks, Ma'am: The Warner Brothers Recordings

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In direct contrast to Jack Webb's persona as the stern, but fair, Sgt. Joe Friday on the radio and television cop drama Dragnet, Webb was actually a connoisseur of '50s jazz. After directing and acting in two feature films (Pete Kelly's Blues and The D.I.) for Warner Bros., in the late ‘50s, Webb was likewise offered a two-disc deal on their newly established record label. Just the Tracks, Ma'am collects both of those long-players on one limited edition compact disc. The first of these albums -- You're My Girl: Romantic Reflections By Jack Webb -- consists of a dozen tracks featuring his spoken recitations over lush, easy listening instrumentals. Directing the orchestra is legendary arranger, producer, conductor, and multi-instrumentalist Billy May. It is unequivocally May who takes the concept of this album and runs with it, inadvertently creating a kitsch masterpiece. May's intimate knowledge of the melodies allows him the structure to score these pop standards and show tunes to the unique pacing of the artist's narration. The irony on this album works on many levels. There is obvious novelty in Webb's deadpan delivery of "Try A Little Tenderness," or the light, almost carefree reading of the Mel Torme penned "Stranger In Town." While the motif of You're My Girl: Romantic Reflections By Jack Webb is amour inducing, the inclusion of "You've Changed" and other ballads of love gone awry seem fittingly warped. Again, the melodramatic arrangements by May immeasurably enhance Webb's stoic narratives. The second and final album on this collection -- Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down -- appears to include minimal involvement from Webb. He contributed more to the photograph on the original LP jacket (at least he is there) and to the liner notes than he did to anything actually in the grooves. This album was based on the character of Pete Kelly, who he had portrayed both on the radio and silver screen. The saga surrounds Kelly, a World War I vet and jazz trumpet player, and his attempts to reunite his old gang. While the film features performances by the likes of Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald they are nowhere near this release. The concept of the 13 instrumentals on Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down emulates a similar release a year earlier by Frank Sinatra titled ...Conducts Tone Poems of Color. Both albums contain easy listening instrumentals featuring musical depictions of colors. While Ol' Blue Eyes tackles the whole rainbow on his release, Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down concentrates on various hues of blue on the first side and red on the second. The one-man connection between this album and the other Pete Kelly projects is jazz clarinetist Matty Matlock. Matlock, along with the other assembled soloists are credited with two compositions on this album -- one per side. These include notable jazz and Dixieland players: saxophonist Eddie Miller, guitarist George Van Eps, and pianist Ray Sherman. Sonically, these recordings sound brilliant and capture the wide-stereo space age bachelor pad effect nicely. Compared to You're My Girl, the instrumentals on -- Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down have aged surprisingly well. Rhino Handmade continues it pursuit of high quality releases by paying excruciating detail to the replication of all the original album jackets, dust sleeves, labels, and liner notes.

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