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The first three entries in Collector's Choiece's landmark Bing Crosby reissue program.

Music Review: Bing Crosby – El Senor Bing, Return To Paradise, Seasons (Deluxe Editions)

Bing Crosby was one of the most influential singers of the Twentieth century, yet his legacy has been sadly neglected in the CD age. He was the role model for countless vocalists in the pre-rock era, including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In conjunction with the Crosby family, Collector's Choice has embarked on an ambitious campaign to properly present Bing's music to the audience of the Twenty-First century.

Bing Crosby had an affiliation with Latin music that stretched all the way back to his 1928 recording of "La Paloma." The ten tracks that make up El Senor Bing were recorded in 1960, with the great Billy May providing musical accompaniment. His approach was to arrange ten two-song medleys of thematically related tunes.

"In The Still Of The Night"/"I Could Have Danced All Night" leads El Senor Bing off in gorgeous style. Another great combination is "How High The Moon"/"Old Devil Moon," especially the backing vocal contributions of Jud Conlon's Rhythmaires. "Again"/"Allez-Vous-En (Go Away)" closes out the original LP, with some beautiful vocals from Bing.

One of the huge benefits of the label working so closely with the family has been their access to his closely guarded archives. The bonus material on each of the reissues is remarkable, most especially with what they unearthed for El Senor Bing. Crosby actually had stored away a mono mix of the album, minus the Rhythmaires, in a completely different running order. It appears here in its entirety for the first time. There are also six radio recordings from The Bing Crosby Show, including a great take on "Papa Loves Mambo."

Return To Paradise was originally released on Sinatra's Reprise label in 1964. It too is something of a concept album, in this case highlighting the music of Hawaii. Bing's interest in the genre was kick-started with his recording of "Sweet Leilani." The tune was used in Bing's 1937 film, Waikiki Wedding, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

For Return To Paradise, Crosby teamed up with the incomparable Nelson Riddle. His arrangements on songs such as "Return To Paradise" and "Adventures In Paradise" are simply stunning. The Hawaiian motif is best displayed in "The Hukilau Song," "Lovely Hula Hands," and "Beautiful Kahana." The album closes with the bittersweet "Home In Hawaii (King's Serenade)."

As for bonus tracks, there are six. The first is an alternate take of "Return To Paradise," complete with false start and studio chatter. The remaining five all hail from The Crosby – Clooney Show, the CBS radio program which featured Bing and Rosemary Clooney. All tracks were recorded in 1961, and complement the Hawaiian theme of the disc.

Bing's final album was titled Seasons, and was released in 1977. It was recorded just one month prior to his unexpected death on an English golf course. It is now available for the first time on compact disc, and is a fitting conclusion to his illustrious career.

Although nobody involved with Seasons had any inkling that this would be Bing's last album, the 12-song cycle could not have been more appropriate. For this date, Crosby recorded with the Pete Moore Orchestra, who brought a lush sound into the proceedings. "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" and "Summer Wind" in particular benefit from the full orchestral readings. There is also something of a jazz feel at times, particularly noticeable with "On The Very First Day Of The Year."

It is remarkable how strong Bing's voice still sounded at this late date. The trademark depth of his vocals is readily evident throughout, but "Autumn In New York" is especially distinctive. I am happy he chose to include a version of "Sleigh Ride" here, as Bing Crosby has always been so closely identified with the holiday season.

The 13 bonus tracks on Seasons are a pretty interesting mix. The first five were recorded exclusively for his fan club, but never distributed. As a change of pace, Bing decided to read some of his favorite poems into the microphone. The recordings have resided in the archives until now.

The remaining eight bonus cuts show what a workaholic Bing Crosby was — right up until the end. On October 11, 1977, he recorded these songs in London's BBC studios, intended for later broadcast. He passed away just three days afterwards from a massive heart attack. There is a wonderful irony in the fact that the very last words he recorded were, "Think of me, once in a while," from the song, "Once In A While."

I hope these outstanding reissue packages help to remind the public of the great legacy of Bing Crosby. His was a timeless talent, and the music he left behind is infinitely enjoyable.

About Greg Barbrick

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