Frankie Laine, vocals; Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. FIM LIM UHD 062 LE.
Of the approximately 17,586,312.47 recordings Erich Kunzel made in his lifetime, mostly for the Telarc label, Round-Up, an album of Western music, was among his better efforts. Maestro Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops Orchestra present a series of tunes mostly made famous in Western movies and television, with a few traditional Western ballads and a supply of Western sound effects (cattle, coyotes, guns) thrown in for good measure. It’s really quite a lot of fun, especially when remastered in such exemplary fashion by the folks at LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a subsidiary of FIM, First Impression Music).
And then there’s the presence to consider of singer Frankie Laine on the album as well, doing up a few of the songs for which we knew him so well. When Telarc first released this album I couldn’t help remembering the time Mel Brooks was looking for somebody “like Frankie Laine” to sing the title song for Blazing Saddles, and somebody said, Why not Frankie Laine? Laine answered the call, not knowing at the time that Brooks’s movie was a parody. Anyway, Laine, famous in the Forties and Fifties for hits like “Mule Train,” “Cool Water,” “High Noon,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Rawhide,” and “Blazing Saddles,” recreates some of them here. He was in his seventies by the time he did the album but still in pretty good form. After all, his career spanned some seventy-five years, starting about 1930 and continuing until a final performance in 2005. I heard him in concert around the time of this album, and he was still a belter.
Round-Up contains twenty tracks, starting with a few Western sound effects and segueing into Rossini’s galop from William Tell so familiar to fans of The Lone Ranger. As usual, Kunzl handles the music with competence though not with any particular vividness. The William Tell is not a performance for the ages and does not generate the kind of excitement that, say, Muti, Gamba, Maag, Reiner, or even Norrington do.
But then it's on to more-conventional Western material with things like The Magnificent Seven, which fare better. Here, Kunzel seems more at home, and the piece comes off with great bravado.
Among my favorite items on the program is an all-too-brief anthology of TV Western themes that includes "Bonanza," "Rawhide" (with Laine, naturally), "Wagon Train," and "The Rifleman." Another memorable selection is from How the West Was Won, in which Kunzel makes the most of the music's epic sweep.
Other notable tracks include a "Hoedown" of familiar Western dance tunes, the main theme from The Big Country, a suite from The Furies, and a choral-orchestral medley of "Ti Yi Yippee Ay," "Shenandoah," "Red River Valley," "Home on the Range," and "The Streets of Laredo."
Finally, Laine reprises a couple of his megahits, "High Noon" and "Gunfight at the OK Corral," always welcome; and Kunzel does good work with highlights from the underrated Silverado.
Be aware, however, that some of this music takes a moment to get used to, played as it is by a big symphony orchestra. We may recall most of these songs done with smaller studio orchestras or in any case much less weighty accompaniment. But I think anyone already used to Kunzel's way around a Hollywood tune will find most of delightful. And if some of these simple melodies sound too overblown for your taste, well, at least I’ve forewarned you.
Telarc producer and engineer Robert Woods made the album at Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio in September 1986. LIM producer Winston Ma and engineer Michael Bishop remastered the recording using UltraHD 32-bit processing in June 2013. The Telarc sound was already pretty good, and the LIM remaster and transfer take it a step further. In a comparison with the original Telarc disc, the LIM sonics appear marginally crisper, better defined, with a slightly greater sense of hall ambience, air, space, resonance, depth, tautness, and overall transparency. The dynamics seem to have a tad more punch as well, but that may be because of the aforementioned characteristics. Naturally, there is a strong, deep bass and a glistening, extended treble.
Incidentally, there are some gunshots on the disc that might not do your speakers any favors if you play them too loudly. Just saying'.
Of course, all of this audiophile improvement comes at a hefty price, but understand that your money also buys you a handsome, glossy foldout case, bound notes, and an inner sleeve with a static-proof liner.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: