After conquering the pop music market in the '50s, vocalist Joni James' mid-'60s titles explored her talents as an interpreter of a wide variety of jazz-influenced styles. Put on a Happy Face (1964) indulges the artist's penchant for Dixieland jazz and slightly vaudevillian readings of 11 pop standards and one original ("In the Middle of an Island"). Under the direction and orchestration of jazz arranger Chuck Sagle and backed (albeit somewhat perfunctorily) by the verbose Jack Halloran Singers, James' perky persona and sunny disposition shine through a variety of well-known melodies. The entire effort has a light and unencumbered air that speaks volumes of James' rapport with Sagle, who scored many of the singer's most notable sides -- including her definitive rendition of "There Goes My Heart." On this album, he once again augments the vocals with a fresh blend of sonic scenarios ranging from the southwestern cowboy lollop heard on "Swanee" to the full-fledged ragtime rendering of "Hello, Dolly!" or "'Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," both of which sport a happy good-time banjo-led accompaniment. One of the best interpretations on the set is of the title track, which James lilts through with her own infectious sense of musical vigor. The slinky score of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" has been bathed in mysterious and muted brass for added sonic impact. "In the Middle of an Island" -- which was a marginal hit for both Tony Bennett and Tennessee Ernie Ford -- is given an unaffected midtempo workout. Notably, the latter track was co-authored by James' then-husband and musical director, Anthony Acquaviva, as well as vocalist Ted Varnick. With an album titled Put on a Happy Face, one might rightly presume that few ballads turn up. The notably Basin Street-influenced interpretation of "April Showers" easily qualifies as such. In 2002, Collectors' Choice Music paired this disc up with I Feel a Song Coming On for a single CD containing two full-length albums as part of their restoration of vintage Joni James titles.
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