Helen Humes / Songs I Like to Sing – A Forgotten Jazz Vocal Classic

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

Side one has OFF THE CHARTS, A+++ Master Tape Sound. It’s amazingly tubey magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals. Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet. The orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass. The overall sound is super full-bodied and rich and very transparent.

Side two is nearly as amazing — natural, warm, and silky sweet. There’s tons of ambience, loads of energy, and a whole lot of deep, punchy bass. Listen to all that ambience around her voice! 

Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art Pepper, Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Jack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

My Favorite Big Band Vocal Album Ever

This is my favorite Big Band Vocal album ever. It belongs in any serious record collection.

After years of playing and enjoying various pressings of this album, I made quite a fortuitous discovery recently — the OJC pressing of this record was never remastered by the OJC people (Phil De Lancie, ugh!), but instead was a real Contemporary label mastering job.

That explains why the OJC of this record sounds so good.

Or does it? Not really! We have other copies with the same stampers that are not nearly as good sounding. You’ve got to have good mastering and you’ve got to have good pressing, and the only way to know whether you have both is to play the record. It’s what Hot Stampers are all about.

A Word About OJC Pressings

OJC versions of Contemporary Records albums can be excellent. Those tend to be the ones we say nice things about. But most of the time the pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid ’70s on the yellow label (until they were bought by Fantasy) are superior. Again, you have to play them to know which are which.

We are also big fans of the OJCs that come with the long strips on the cover. They tend to be mastered pre-Phil De Lancie (maybe by George Horn, one of our favorite mastering engineers), and usually sound much better than the pressings that followed. There is a link for them on the left.

My understanding is that Bernie Grundman was cutting a lot of records for Contemporary in those days. If that’s true he was doing a great job because those are some wonderful sounding records. 

 I also recommend the CD, which has a bonus track, an alternate take which is even more dynamic than the version that’s on the album. 


Side One

If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)
Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Track Commentary

This is where this album starts to cook. This brass gets going, preparing themselves for the next track where they really let loose.

Mean to Me

This is my favorite track on the album, the real demo disc quality track. Roy DuNann was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group and as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums accompaning them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is when the brass really starts blowing good and loud. This is a big speaker record, no doubt about it. With the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would swear it’s live.

This is also an excellent test track. Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room they needed. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments.

The natural inclination is to brighten the sound up to make her voice more clear. But you will be made painfully aware that brighter is not better when the brass tears your head off. So the balance between voice and brass is key to the proper reproduction of this album.

Once you have achieved that balance, tweak for transparency while guarding against too much upper midrange or top.

Every Now and Then
I Want a Roof over My Head
St. Louis Blues

Side Two

You’re Driving Me Crazy
My Old Flame
Million Dollar Secret
Love Me or Leave Me
Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set (reissued on CD) features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of “If I Could Be With You,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” and “Million Dollar Secret,” in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.