Better known to soul fans as a gifted arranger, most notably the long-time collaborator of Aretha Franklin, but equally working with Gladys Knight, Frank Sinatra and a roster of Motown artists including The Supremes, The Temptations and the Jackson Five that were released in 1960 and 1962 respectively. The material was varied and straddles blues, R & B, jazz and even the Great American Songbook repertoire.
Barnum was just twenty-five years of age when recording his first ever album, ‘The Big Voice of Barnum’, and at the time was totally focused on his own career. To these ears, the music works best with the more blues oriented material such as ‘I Know (Don’t Have To Tell Me)’ and ‘How Many More Times’. A second album,’Everybody loves H.B. – Barnum that is!’, was released two years later and, interestingly, it is a cover of Thelonius Monk’s jazz standard, ‘Round Midnight’, that stands out here. Ballads were a speciality of Barnum and, ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face’, impresses. Of course, there were covers of pop songs with ‘The Last Dance’ and an R & B favourite, ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, both fine examples of Barnum’s ability to adapt to his own versatile style.
Now eighty years of age, H.B. Barnum has enjoyed a distinguished career as an arranger of other singers and doubtless his own singing enabled him to empathise and better understand the needs of other singers. He recorded half a dozen vocal albums in the 1960s before settling into a longer career of producing others. A worthy re-issue.