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'Gene Kelly': An Engaging Sampler From Genial Hoofer : GENE KELLY: "Gene Kelly at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer: 'S Wonderful" Turner/Rhino (*** 1/2)

June 07, 1996|ROBERT HILBURN

It's easy to see why Will Friedwald couldn't make it past the first sentence of his affectionate liner notes for this survey of Gene Kelly's musical moments on film without mentioning Fred Astaire.

Though they sing together on only one of the album's selections ("The Babbitt and the Bromide" from 1946), their careers were virtually inseparable.

Kelly and Astaire were both superb dancers whose routines are among the highlights of American movie history. Where Astaire was a master of sophistication and elegance, Kelly moved in a more informal, everyman fashion.

As a singer, too, Kelly exhibited an intimate, almost understated approach, one that suggested that he always knew that the words were the attraction, not his voice. The result--in songs from such films as "Singin' in the Rain," "An American in Paris" and "Brigadoon"--is a body of work that has become even more engaging with age. As much as old recordings, this album comes across as a series of rediscovered letters from a friend.

For anyone who has seen the films from which these songs were taken, the recordings are remindful of far more than Kelly's voice. During the instrumental passages, particularly, it's easy to imagine him moving across the screen in ways that invited you to dance along as much as his vocals invited you to sing along.

Besides the Astaire duet, the package includes pairings with Judy Garland (including "For Me and My Gal" and "Be a Clown") and Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor ("Good Morning"), among others. A delight.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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