March 2013

Rhythm of the HeartA Magnificently Recorded Tribute to Tino Rossi

RB Records RB 4302

Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Raquel Bitton has spent a large portion of her professional life recreating the art of Edith Piaf. Bitton has performed her hit show, Raquel Bitton Sings Piaf -- Her Story, Her Songs, three times at Carnegie Hall and in music halls and theaters across North America. A PBS docu-concert film of the show, Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs, still continues to air on PBS stations. If you like Piaf (and who doesn't?), you'll enjoy Bitton's new CD, Rhythm of the Heart, though it is devoted to the memory of a different singer, Tino Rossi (1907-1983).

Born in Corsica, France, Rossi started singing in his hometown of Ajaccio, but he soon landed in Paris, where he started recording for Columbia Records and starring in French musical films. He is credited with hundreds of records and more than 25 films. During his career he was said to have sold more than 300 million records, the greatest number for any French singer. In his pre-World War II days, he created a social sensation as a singer with a "Latin lover" persona. His singing style included rolled Rs that became the conversational style in Paris.

Bitton picked a dozen Rossi winners after listening to over 500 songs, saying, "I dressed them up as sambas, bossa novas, tangos, cha-chas, boleros, Haitian meringue, and danzon." She is backed by a fairly large orchestra, fronted by an Afro-Cuban band led by Carlitos del Puerto, Jr.

Bitton has that rolling-R bit down cold. Many singers would make it sound affected, but Bitton incorporates it as just another facet of her warm and elegant style. Most often it rolls off like a sexy purr, though it occasionally has more bite. Bitton's voice is warm and seductive, and she has the full measure of Latin rhythms so that the undulating dances flow from her in a very natural manner.

She sings all of the songs in French, but the package thoughtfully provides translations, printed in decent-size type for a change, and on heavy paper. The booklet, along with all the credits, is pasted into the Digipak sleeve rather than being inserted, as is the norm.

All of the musicians in the large supporting band are world class. Rebeca Mauleón arranged percussion, plays piano, and conducts; Ramon Stagnaro provides luscious guitar passages; and all the horn players have a chance to shine. Rafa Sardina, an 11-time Grammy Award winner, co-produced and engineered the album, and Rhythm of the Heart might put him up to an even dozen. Everything is exactly right, every balance perfect. The overall sound is lush, warm, and seductive, as it must be for this literature, but there is absolutely no lack of detail.

I haven't dwelt too much on the individual songs. I'd never heard them before, and you probably haven't either, but after hearing them on this most-appealing CD, you're going to be hard pressed to forget them. "Il pleut sur la route" ("It's Raining on the Road") really sticks in my mind. Thanks to YouTube you can also hear Rossi's somewhat gentler original Columbia recording.

Be sure to listen to: Jorge (Coco) Trivisonno's bandoneón solos in "Il est trop tard" ("It's Too Late") are positively scintillating and recorded with such presence that you can close your eyes and imagine him in your listening room.

. . . Rad Bennett