There was a time when Jimmy Scott couldn't catch a break nohow. In a career marked by commercial mishaps and personal disappointments, 1962 may have been a new low for the diminutive singer then known as "Little" Jimmy Scott.
As recounted in David Ritz's new biography "Faith in Time," Scott's life up to that point had been a relentless litany of tragedy: broken relationships, sour record deals, problems with drink, and personal attacks related to a rare physical condition that left Scott stunted in stature and sexual development, the same condition that blessed him with the remarkable high-pitched voice he put to unique use.
Things seemed finally to be looking up, though. Having established himself since the late 1940s as a "singer's singer" whose elastic relationship to rhythm, daringly laid-back phrasing and emotional commitment to a song set him dramatically apart, Scott was signed by admirer Ray Charles to record for his new Tangerine label. Scott was given the royal-carpet treatment: His vocals were caressed by strings and woodwinds scored by A-list arrangers Marty Paich and Gerald Wilson; Charles himself played piano on every track.
Responding to this dream come true, Scott delivered a bravura performance, resulting in a powerfully emotive recording, "Falling in Love Is Wonderful." Poised for a commercial breakthrough, Scott was instead delivered the news that the owner of his former record company was claiming exclusive rights to the singer. Reluctant to fight in court, Tangerine quickly pulled the album out of circulation. "Wonderful" soon became the stuff of legends, adored by connoisseurs lucky enough to get their hands on a copy.
In the interim decades, Scott's career waned more than waxed, eventually grinding to a halt in the early 1970s. With his unexpected resurgence in the 1990s, Scott fast acquired iconic stature for a new generation hungry for old-school authenticity. The return of "Falling in Love Is Wonderful" was inevitable.
With us again (now distributed by Rhino Records in a limited series of 7,500 copies), the album still offers profound pleasures. The arrangements are indeed lush and Charles's piano delightfully eccentric; still, it's Scott's show all the way.
No surprise to his current fans -- he takes his sweet time. With no song taken at anything faster than a mildly brisk mid-tempo, Scott builds and maintains a delicious mood of contemplative romanticism. Responding to the crafted structures of such standards as "There Is No Greater Love," "If I Should Lose You" and "How Deep Is the Ocean," he stretches phrases seemingly past their breaking point, yet this high-wire vocal act sounds as natural for him as breathing. Glorying in the sheer weirdness of his ambisexual vocal tones, Scott consciously melds with a song, never loosening his grip on the expressive sinew of a lyric. Scott's masculinity is, ironically, displayed in the iron conviction behind his deliberately mannered singing.
A long time in coming, the re-release of "Falling in Love Is Wonderful" rescues a classic recording from the mist of legend, bringing it into the bright light of day.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8181.)