Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe turn their attention to the American West and come up with a story that anticipates the romantic triangle of Camelot. On the way, they present one of their best scores, featuring such songs as "They Call the Wind Maria" and "Wand'rin' Star." For those who only know Paint Your Wagon by way of the sprawling Paramount motion picture (starring Lee Marvin, Jean Seberg, and Clint Eastwood -- not a singer among them), this album will be a major revelation, showing off the songs and the parts within the context of the performances embodied on the record as they were intended and originally visualized. Indeed, this is where the cast album becomes more than an artifact of a hit show -- the producers of the original LP, rushing in mid-November of 1951 to cut this album so they could get it out by the following month, did an extraordinary job of creating a sound document here, not just a souvenir, within the time constraints imposed. Ex-vaudeville song and dance man James Barton is the star by virtue of his role as Ben Rumson, and he acquits himself beautifully in his own low-key way. But there are stunning star turns by lyric tenor Tony Bavaar in the role of Julio, and Rufus Smith as Steve Bullnack is a wonder in his performance of "They Call the Wind Maria" -- the latter song has been emboldened and speeded up in countless performances since, and here listeners get to hear the original loping tempo, which allows one to focus far more on the lyrics than on the singer, to the benefit of both. And Olga San Juan, who became a celebrated newcomer to Broadway at the ripe old age of 34, cuts a memorable vocal turn on "How Can I Wait?" The album ends with "Wand'rin' Star," the song that was added at the last minute during its pre-Broadway run in Boston, and which became one of the hits from the score. The BMG CD reissue offers a gorgeous transfer of the original recording, capturing the finest nuances of the performances and Franz Allers' conducting, and corrects an error or two that made it into the original annotation and plot synopsis in the original producers' rush to get the cast album out in time for Christmas of 1951. Not only is it amazingly enjoyable listening more than half a century on, but it's also an opportunity to see what was great about the original stage piece, long before the Hollywood adaptation buried it under the rewritten, gargantuan film production.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann