After seeing the ‘Judy’ movie, I was curious how I would react to the soundtrack. In the context of the movie, I was impressed by Renee Zellwegger singing the songs herself. But, on an aural enjoyment level, do the same tracks work?
My answer is no. Taken out of the movie, the songs feel flat. While you can tell that Zellweger wasn’t doing a total imitation of Garland, the songs just fall south of interesting. She sings in tune, and gets some of the Judy inflections, and at times puts her own spin, but all in all, they do nothing for me. Even the original orchestrations sound paltry in comparison. Nelson Riddle’s thrilling arrangement of ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ sounds thin here, and to my ears felt it was missing whole sections of instruments. The two duets she has are more interesting (curiously with two openly gay men, Sam Smith and Rufus Wainwright) but in the end, those two tracks will not enhance my life in any way. I hope anyone who listens to this will be compelled to listen to the original Judy Garland versions of this song, and see the difference.
I am sure it’s been done before but I am glad there exists a Judy Garland tribute album, this one by Hilary Kole, on ‘The Judy Garland Project.’ To be honest, I know I have heard Kole’a album before (and I am sure have them in my collection) but I’ll be darned if I remember any of them. This new one is resonating, and resonating pretty deeply. Her voice has the aged-wine quality of Jane Monheit, but has the jazz sensibility of Karin Allyson’s.
I find that in this album, Kole’s lyric interpretation is spot on – obviously these songs are very meaningful to her. I read on her web site that she was pregnant with her child while recording these albums, and perhaps that’s why there’s a resonance here that cuts deep. I can’t think of a track I don’t love. O am smitten by the clear, plaintive ‘Embraceable You,’ and the touching and tough ‘As Long As He Needs Me,’ but in the swinger tunes (backed superbly by pianist John DiMartino, bassist Paul Gill, and drummer Aaron Kimmel) you can see the full-pledged jazz singer in her. She brings a lived-in sensibility to these songs, perhaps because they stem from her Judy Garland tribute sets. There’s an ache I feel in ‘It Never Was You,” that can almost equal Judy’s heartbreaking version. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, and I am quite protective of it: I am allowing Kole to touch it. And I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on how she does ‘Over The Rainbow:’ competently, surely not equal to the original, though for sure it’s unfair to compare. It’s more internal, and modern, and it’s ok. (Ann Hampton Callaway’s version is tops among the modern ones)
One thing, though: it looks like this album has only been physically produced in Japan, although available as downloads here. But then again, do people still buy actual discs? However, this is worth seeking, and is a great tribute to Judy.