Since the Billy May approach to arranging was often capable of blowing all but the strongest vocalists out of the room, a collection of his studio orchestra's unaccompanied recordings is welcome indeed. The two-disc set Studio Recordings 1951-1953
reissues 50 sides, most of them closer to big-band jazz than the type of easy-listening pop churned out by Jackie Gleason
or Ray Conniff
. May's arranging chops were unparalleled, and he compensates for the lack of vocals by adding plenty of parts for the more lyrical of his orchestra voices. Standards from the American songbook, such as "Lulu's Back in Town" and "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," make for most of the highlights, though originals like "Mayhem" and "Fat Man Boogie" illustrate that May's composer skills were impressive as well.