Although Al Hibbler collaborated over the years with such brilliant musical minds as Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Count Basie, Gerald Wilson, Harry Carney, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, his work with the Jack Pleis orchestra also may serve as a perfect introduction to this remarkable vocalist. Hibbler's highly developed dramatic sensibilities are especially well suited to the often caricature-like arrangements used by Pleis on the 1956 album Starring Al Hibbler. The bright brass and gutsy sax on their famous rendition of "After the Lights Go Down Low" and the Hollywood daydream quality of "Pennies from Heaven" showcase Hibbler at his very finest. Speaking of Tinseltown: the real gem in this part of the package is Hib's bracingly masculine interpretation of "Shanghai Lil," a marvelous relic from Busby Berkeley's Footlight Parade (1933) that inadvertently conjures the spirits of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Humphrey Bogart. Even those who aren't nettled by the strings used throughout Starring Al Hibbler might lightly resent the mixed choir used on half of the tracks from his 1957 album Here's Hibbler which also has its share of keening violins. The wordless vocal accompaniment behind his passionate reading of "Trees" is no problem, but the insistently repetitive background interjections on "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me" are somewhat intrusive. They are reminiscent of and yet not so difficult to take as the shrill voices of the Artie Malvin singers who were used on Jimmy Dorsey's final recording session in 1957. This sort of production was peculiarly popular during the mid- to late-'50s, but so were Eisenhower, Benzedrine and Patti Page. In any case, the best track from Here's Hibbler (and one of this singer's all-time greatest recordings) is undoubtedly his theatrical realization of "Slow Boat to China," a majestic Technicolor fantasy bristling with trombones, trumpets and cymbals. It is an immaculately exaggerated performance of nearly superhuman dimensions.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf