Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

The John Wilson Orchestra – That’s Entertainment – EMI Classics

A faithful interpretation of the brilliant MGM film music of the past, in good sonics.

Published on October 15, 2012

The John Wilson Orchestra – That’s Entertainment – EMI Classics

The John Wilson Orchestra – That’s Entertainment – EMI Classics 50999 9 15544 2 0, 77:52 ****: 

(Featuring The John Wilson Orchestra; with special guests, Kim Criswell, Matthew Ford; Sarah Fox; Seth MacFarlane & Curtis Stigers and the Maida Vale Singers)

Over the last seventy years, the MGM library of musicals has stood as the zenith of film scores. The world can listen to the opening notes, and visualize Judy Garland singing or Gene Kelly dancing. These moments are not merely enjoyable, but uplifting. At the core of these musicals is a full orchestra and impeccable arrangements. Unfortunately a lot of the original, complete scores have been lost, leaving only fragmented or condensed versions.

In 1994 John Wilson assembled an orchestra to perform a tribute to the great American composers and arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Johnny Mandel and Paul Weston. This served as an inspiration to initiate an orchestral celebration of his favorite music…the MGM Film Musicals. That’s Entertainment is a detailed reconstruction of these arrangements. Songs by the greatest American composers like Gershwin, Porter, Kern and Berlin are featured in this collection. The opening (“MGM Jubilee Orchestra”) sets a festive tone with a crescendo-laden medley of tunes, including “I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, The Last Time I Saw Paris” “Over The Rainbow”, “Temptation” and “On The Atchinson, Topeka And The Santa Fe”. Next comes a finger-snapping rendition of “The Trolley Song” (Meet Me In St. Louis) with a rich chorus (mostly unison), a variety of string accents and lead vocals by Kim Criswell. Criswell has a natural stage voice that fits the music. Then a big-band jazzy cover of Steppin’ Out With My Baby” (Easter Parade) introduces Curtis Stigers, who delivers a bravura performance with his mellow baritone.

Seth MacFarlane contributes vocals on “You’re Sensational”, one of three songs from High Society. He collaborates with Stigers on the appealing “Well, Did You Evah”, recalling the memorable duet of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Throughout the album, the band arrangements areexemplary. “I’ve Got Ryhthm” (Girl Crazy) executes a wide variety of jazzy band nuances that reflect the Gershwin genius. A duo of selections from An American In Paris remind us of the textured elegance of his compositions. “Our Love Is Here To Stay” is anchored by tender instrumentation. The prominent “Main Title” is a “mini-overture” that utilizes “clip- clop” percussion, flutes, reeds and violins.  A wonderful Americana vibe weaves through “Barn Dance” (Seven Brides For Seven Brothers) with lively fiddle and Copeland-type key signatures. This represents the heart and soul of film music.

That’s Entertainment is a faithful interpretation of the brilliant MGM film music. It makes you feel good, just listening to it! There is also a DVD available. 

TrackList: MGM Jubilee Overture; The Trolley Song; Steppin’ Out With My Baby; The Heather On The Hill; Barn Dance; You’re Sensational; I Got Rhythm; Singin’ In The Rain; An American In Paris; Love Is Here To Stay; Well, Did You Ever; The New Moon – Sequence: One kiss/Lover Come Back To Me; Broadway Melody Ballet; That’s Entertainment

—Robbie Gerson




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