Thursday, November 16, 2017

Frank D'Rone on Mercury, 1960

Singer Frank D'Rone is perhaps one of the most obscure but definitely one of the most swinging vocalists of the 1950s and '60s. When he passed away in 2013 at age 81, his obituary in the Chicago Tribune noted that on the day he gave his last concert, he "didn't know whether he should go to the emergency room or the concert hall." Such was D'Rone's devotion to music. Born in Massachusetts in 1932 but raised in Rhode Island, D'Rone developed an early interest in the guitar, and by the early '50s he was making a name for himself in jazz clubs around Chicago, both as a singer and as a guitarist. Nat King Cole was particularly impressed by D'Rone's musicianship, to such an extent that he took the younger singer under his wing and helped him get a recording contract with Mercury.

In his book Jazz Singing, critic Will Friedwald observes that "D'Rone has a forties-type voice . . . in a fifties Capitol F[rank] S[inatra] setting . . . and generates genuine warmth" (331). This Sinatra connection is particularly evident in the album After the Ball, recorded in 1960, partly because the vivacious arrangements are by Billy May. The twelve songs on the LP are loosely tied by the concept of an imaginary conversation between two lovers who have just attended a dance. Perhaps not enough to speak of a concept album in the strict sense of the term, but the set works extremely well because both the songs and the charts are top notch, and the tracks range from a high-octane swinging reading of an old chestnut like Charles K. Harris's "After the Ball" to versions of well-known standards such as "My Melancholy Baby" and Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to," and even more contemporary tunes like Bart Howard's "Let Me Love You" and Matt Dennis's excellent "Will You Still Be Mine." Whether he's singing an all-out swinger or a longing ballad, the warmth of D'Rone's voice shines through as he, according to the anonymous liner notes, "re-lives the whole early-morning romance vocally." This is most definitely an album in need of rediscovery, and so is the name on its cover—Frank D'Rone.

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