William Clarence Eckstine (1914-1993) was an amalgam of singer, multi-talented musician and band leader during the be-bop and swing era but it was his distinctive smooth baritone with its uniquely controlled vibrato that launched him into the late Forties and early Fifties Hit Parade with appealing romantic ballads ensuring he deserved heart-throb status. After periods with the EmArcy, MGM and Roulette labels, Billy was attached to Mercury Records by the early Sixties with the launch of stereo records sufficiently well established to offer imaginative orchestrations for concept albums and the two albums featured on this Sepia release benefit greatly from such an asset whilst "Mr. B" was at the height of his vocal powers.
BROADWAY, BONGOS AND MR "B" was a 1961-released album of superbly rendered show songs effectively revised with Latin rhythms via arrangements provided by Hal Mooney and his Orchestra and it's likely the concept headed a plethora of such albums by other singers over the ensuing years. With Billy fully charged to vocal perfection, IF EVER I WOULD LEAVE YOU (CAMELOT), TONIGHT (WEST SIDE STORY), ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE (MY FAIR LADY) and STRANGER IN PARADISE (KISMET) represent songs from successful Fifties musicals; leaving room to back-track the inclusion of older stage gems like FROM THIS MOMENT ON, I COULD WRITE A BOOK and THERE'S A SMALL HOTEL with the end result signifying an absolute winner.
DON'T WORRY `BOUT ME represents a 1962-released collection of singles and up-front continues the Broadway theme with TILL THERE WAS YOU (THE MUSIC MAN) and WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I? (STOP THE WORLD - I WANT TO GET OFF) but veers off to include then-current Hollywood theme songs via well covered (LOVE IS) THE TENDER TRAP, THE EXODUS SONG and TENDER IS THE NIGHT. Remaining choices include album's Rube Bloom/Ted Koehler title standard as well as another oldie GUILTY, Mel Torme's winsome STRANGER IN TOWN and Eckstine's self-written I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU. I was also impressed by JEANNIE written for Matt Monro by Norman Newell and Trevor Sandford but equally enthralling as sung by Mr "B". Although various musical arrangers/conductors provide support the album succeeds wholly as such rather than just a vague round-up of songs and it goes without saying Eckstine superbly hits his vocal target. Filling spare time, Sepia adds bonus I APOLOGISE and MY FOOLISH HEART to the mix.
Mr "B" was the first American vocalist I ever saw in concert and whilst too young at the time to fully grasp his immense vocal impact, I now welcome any release dedicated to this underappreciated singer's memory. Therefore, I am full of praise for Sepia's sound remastering, excellent presentation, informative liner notes and photographs; with all providing all that is necessary to ensure the popularity of this release.