Bridget St. John has a small legion of fans willing to do battle for their hero, but to most she sounds like a pleasant, secondary British folk-rock artist of the early 1970s. Those impressions won't be changed by this, her third album, mixing low-key originals with covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, as well as one of her most popular tracks, an interpretation of the traditional folk tune "Lazarus." Simply put, St. John doesn't come within bow-and-arrow range of Sandy Denny or Maddy Prior. She favors a low, slightly husky delivery that sometimes brings to mind what Marianne Faithfull might have sounded like in the late '70s had Faithfull's voice lowered naturally, instead of being ravaged. Reserve can be effective, but it sounds like St. John would need to be roasted over an open flame before her temperature rose.
[The album was reissued on CD in 1995, with the addition of eight bonus tracks from a live performance in 1972.]
Released to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G.'s death, Greatest Hits places the two "collaborate with a dead legend" albums -- 1999's Born Again and 2005's Duets: The Final Chapter -- on equal ground with Ready to Die and Life After Death, the two landmark albums Biggie released while he was on the planet. Anthologizing one of the most compelling figures in hip-hop history seems like a right thing to do. Basing such a release around four albums that are greatly divided between essential and inessential, however, amounts to something of a mess. Two obscurities are used where it would've made much more sense to select "Mo Money, Mo Problems" and "Going Back to Cali," two of the biggest hits not included on this disc, and it's really off-balance to include three tracks from Born Again when only one more is pulled directly from Ready to Die. Longtime fans need not go near this; the same goes for beginners, who should reach for Ready to Die.
Sony Classical, down to a select number of highly marketable releases each year, has rarely been in the reissue business, and it's unclear how the label came to reissue this album, originally released in 1974 as an LP on RCA's venerable Red Seal label. Perhaps it was because film scores are one of classical music's growth segments, and Sony wanted to test the waters for future releases in the genre. The reissue is a successful one in any event. The sound and the performances, with Charles Gerhard conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, have held up well. The program includes not only music from Captain Blood (1935), but also suites from seven other Errol Flynn films, including a short selection from Hugo Friedhofer's score for The Sun Also Rises, made just two years before Flynn's death in 1959. As such, the album traverses several eras in film music history.
But most of the music comes from the pens of the German immigrant composers who came to Hollywood in the 1930s and set the tone for an entire cultural system: in this case Erich Korngold and Max Steiner, with one short contribution from Franz Waxman as well. The focus on Flynn makes sense, for, as Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer, and Clifford McCarty write in the original liner notes, "The great swashbuckler and the era of great romantic movie music set sail on the same tide." The splendid cuts from The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood will sound familiar to anyone who has watched late-night movies on television for any length of time, and they virtually define the sword-and-sea atmosphere of these films. But what's even more interesting is to watch these composers adapt their styles to later developments in Flynn's career. He moved, oddly enough, into the Western, resulting in some unbelievable plots designed to explain the arrival of the supposedly Irish Flynn (he was actually Australian, from Tasmania) in the Old West. But sample Steiner's score for Dodge City (track 5), with its Tchaikovskian spaces and romantic melodies deployed to imagine an open prairie quite different from the ones Aaron Copland was working on at the same time. These scores are enjoyable not only for film buffs, but for anyone who has ever wanted to think a little bit about movie music and its history. Highly enjoyable; well worth the reissue. Kudos to Sony.