Dinah Washington was an exceptionally beautiful and evocative singer who suffered from the advent of technology. Her vibrato and the quality of her voice was perfectly suited to the sound of jukebox singles and 78s. By the time she got to studios with better recording equipment, her stylistic thing became a limitation. At least, that’s my opinion, anyway. She did make a couple great records later on in the LP era, also on Mercury, including with Clifford Brown as well as an album of Fats Waller tunes that’s really charming.
But Dinah was at her absolute best singing catchy jukebox material. You picture yourself at a roadside diner around dusk, drinking a coffee while waiting on your eggs, toast and hash browns. There’s something very WW2– or at least 40s– about these records, like stepping into a time capsule. Some of the tunes were hits (“I Want to Be Loved” biggest of all). Like the mid-30s Billie Holiday sides on Columbia, though, the tunes you end up liking the best are the ones you’ve never heard before: they’re even more charming and evocative of the period than a familiar standard could ever be.
I fell in love with early Dinah Washington while living in Austin. Conjuring images of gabardine shirts and slacks, this was music that sounds suburban, in the best possible way, while also retaining an urban (black) sensibility. Maybe ex-urban, then? It’s possible it reminds me of all those noirs set in roadside diners (The Killers? Blue Dahlia? Out of the Past? So many others). Either way, the music is transporting; it’s accompanied me on many beautiful weekends, especially in the car on sunny afternoons.
There’s no really easy way to get this music on vinyl without paying for the giant box set. In the 70s and early 80s, music of the pre-LP era was re-released, pretty much for self-consciously archival purposes, as opposed to mere enjoyment. It was a high time for completists, especially in Europe and Japan, where collectors and jazz fans have usually been better guardians of America’s cultural heritage than we’ve been ourselves. (That’s not a condemnation of Americans, necessarily, as we do a far better job of keeping important non-American music in print than just about anywhere else.)