May 2001

Doreen Smith - A Tribute To Julie London
Fidelio CD FACD006
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Why is it that a well-recorded sultry female voice singing classic songs with sparse instrumentation seems to stir something within the souls of audiophiles everywhere? Darned if I know. All I can say is that I’m as big a sucker for that kind of recording as the next guy. So, as I was strolling the crowded halls at the Montreal audio show this past spring, I was drawn into the room where this disc, A Tribute To Julie London by Canadian singer Doreen Smith, was playing. Ah, now this was more like it! (Of course, the fact that the electronics were by Nagra and the speakers by Sonus Faber didn’t hurt either.)

I’m familiar with Julie London (mostly as an actress, though), but the singer, Doreen Smith, and label, Fidelio, were new to me. But -- pause here while I give away the ending -- if the rest of the Fidelio catalog is anywhere near as good as this disc, I’m going to be the poorer for it. This is one fine album, both musically and sonically.

Most of the songs are recorded with only Smith’s voice, an acoustic bass and either an electric or acoustic guitar, joined occasionally by an alto sax and percussion. Ms. Smith has one of the most sensual voices I’ve heard in a long time -- and, as for the sound, well, I’ll get into that in more detail later, but it’s right up there with the best I’ve heard. So all the parts seem to be here. But do they all fit together and make a complete album? Let’s see.

We all have our fair share of albums that feature female vocalists doing songs in this vein, so why should this disc excite attention? Because there is a great deal of love and respect shown here by Ms. Smith for London’s work. And because Ms. Smith has a way with these songs, as well as a vocal style that will grab you right from the get-go and make you cry when this disc ends. When she opens this album singing "That Old Feeling," she’ll give you that old feeling, easily.

Julie London covered all of the songs recorded here during her ten-year, 31-album career except for one, "Route 66," which was written by her late husband, Bobby Troup. Yet, when Ms. Smith reaches that song (it’s number eight on the hit parade), you'll find it hard to believe that London never sang it -- it fits in so well here both stylistically as well as vocally. And the cover of London’s biggest hit, "Cry Me A River," will have you scurrying to your local used-vinyl emporium looking for any of Julie’s albums. (Ha ha, I already got there -- you're too late!)

As for the sound of A Tribute …? Superb, top rate, one of the best I’ve heard, very natural, yada, yada, yada. What’s that? You want more of a description? OK, but beware, superlatives are about to roll.

Let’s start with the vocals. They’re up-front and very three-dimensional -- so much so that, as you listen, Ms. Smith will be joining you, singing to you alone. (What do you mean, you listen with others? What are you reading this part for? You’re no true audiophile!) You can hear her breathe and feel the way her voice caresses the mike as she forms the words. Fidelio only used two custom-made microphones for this recording, one hung above the room and one for Ms. Smith.

The bass is deep, appropriately wooden, and plucky. You’ll be able to follow the bassist as he plucks each string; you can practically hear the rosin flaking off the horsehair as he draws his bow across. The guitars are easy to follow, and you’ll be able to identify each of the three different ones used (two electric and one acoustic). Transients are excellent. There is air aplenty around both the instruments and Ms. Smith, giving the sense of the performance inhabiting a real space. My only complaint is that there isn’t much in the way of ambience here. The acoustic is rather dry. I know that may sound contradictory, based on what I just wrote above, but if you listen, you’ll hear what I’m talking about. But that’s a pretty minor one problem, given the overall quality of the recording.

This is a demo-quality disc. It’s also a wonderfully musical disc. It’s two, two, two discs in one; and how rare is that, brother audiophiles? I’d love to hear this on vinyl (hint, hint, nudge, nudge). Fidelio has a winner here. A Tribute To Julie London offers excellent vocals and superb sonics, both being about as good as CD gets. You’ll want this disc for its sound alone, but you'll listen to it over and over for its musical content. And isn’t that what this hobby’s supposed to be all about?