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Soundtrack Review

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Li'l Abner
The Original Sound-track Score from the Paramount Picture


Composer: Gene De Paul
Lyricist: Johny Mercer
Label: Masterworks Broadway
RRP: £13.99

8 884302 37322
Release Date: 11 February 2014

Masterworks, as you know, are leading the way at the moment with re-issues of classic Broadway recording, and film soundtracks, not previously available in the digital age. Their first release of 2014 is a film soundtrack, only previously issued on LP.

Like most hit Broadway musicals of its time, the rollicking Li’l Abner – inspired by Al Capp’s blockbuster comic strip – got the full Hollywood treatment in 1959. Musical theater fans know the film as a remarkably pure transfer of a classic 1950s Broadway musical, skillfully re-setting and preserving a theatrical experience onscreen. Most of the Broadway cast was retained: Peter Palmer reprised his portrayal of Li’l Abner, and the stage veterans included Stubby Kaye, Julie Newmar, Joe E. Marks plus a number of ensemble performers. Nelson Riddle adapted and conducted the Gene de Paul/Johnny Mercer score for the Li’l Abner soundtrack, with choral arrangements by Joseph J. Lilley; they earned the film’s only Oscar (and, later, Grammy) nomination. The “soundtrack” album (in stereo, while the Broadway recording was available only in mono) is actually a re-recording (or re-editing) of the songs for the soundtrack’s commercial LP release, a common practice that promised a smoother listening experience on the home hi-fi.

It's a score that's very much of its age; both the film and the Broadway show are from the late '50s; and a score that's very much representative of the musical tastes of the time. It's a show that still isn't widely performed, although this probably is more to do with it not having a 'hit' song, than the quality of the show, or its score. The recording sounds remarkably good, and almost noise free - I'm not sure what media they had available to go back to for this issue, but it sounds in good condition.

As I said above, this is somewhat a unique recording, as the film starred many of the original Broadway cast. Stubby Kaye is the star, no doubt here, and Jubilation T Corpone is perhaps the best known song here, and the number that comes over best on the recording. There's some fine vocals on 'The County's In The Very Best of Hands' too - in fact, the whole recording is certainly listenable, even though it's not one that's full of standards, nor one I would keep returning too.

Great work by Masterworks Broadway though, and hope to hear many more of these gems in the future.


Ian Gude

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