While they may not be the future of pop, The Puppini Sisters deliver true musical delight with their latest album, Hollywood.
The Puppini Sisters: Hollywood
It would be easy to dismiss the Puppini Sisters as a sort of trumped-up tribute act, happily mimicking wartime warblers the Andrews Sisters rather than creating anything original. Take a closer look, though, and the myriad gifts of this classically schooled trio quickly become apparent. There is much more to the Puppinis than an old song and a cheeky wink.
Formed in 2004 by the Italian-born Marcella Puppini and two fellow music students, Stephanie O'Brien and Kate Mullins, their star has risen dramatically in recent months due to a continuing collaboration with that global phenomenon, Michael Bublé. The Canadian crooner showcased the trio on his recent tour, Christmas album and TV special, hence this album's full release has been pushed back to the traditionally unpopular post-festive period, to take advantage of their new household-name status.
Not that the Bublé link should put off those who dislike his super-smooth style, as the Sisters pack considerably more sass and musical savvy. Album number four has a movie theme, and the title track gives an early taster of the girls' compositional skills and their boundless confidence. Standing proudly at the head of a collection also featuring classics by the likes of Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers, Hollywood is a Puppini original, a jaunty swing number with an apt theme: chasing fame.
That song's likeably catchy chorus ("Hollywood, mon amour") also hints at another recurring theme, as the subsequent record transports us down the Champs-Élysées as often as Hollywood Boulevard, curiously. Marcella Puppini was originally inspired to form a harmony trio after watching the animated musical Belleville Rendez-Vous, and the influence clearly remains intact.
She introduces a surprisingly dramatic version of the Marilyn Monroe show-stopper Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend with a hearty squeeze of Gallic accordion ("The French are glad to die for love ..."), after which two lesser-known French ditties offer a pleasing detour from the better-exposed fare. Moi Je Joue, once given a spiky airing by the Parisian bombshell Brigitte Bardot, is almost unrecognisable in its new swing arrangement, while the album closes with a gorgeous rendition of Parle Plus Bas, best known in instrumental form as the love theme from The Godfather.
The Puppinis' individual talents are best witnessed on stage, in truth, where the trio regularly step out of formation to conduct the string section or play various instruments. For this album, they recorded in the traditional 1940s vocal-trio style, with all three girls around one microphone, but only after personally conjuring new and often radical arrangements for each song.
Get Happy - Judy Garland's euphoric number from her final film, Summer Stock - is given a sparse militaristic feel, including a vibrant violin solo from O'Brien, while the Gershwins' I Got Rhythm goes on a tumultuous jazz-fuelled journey. The Sisters do not mess quite so readily with that most evocative of movie anthems, Moon River - famously strummed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's - but Mullins does sneak in a quirky melodica solo.
Her glockenspiel then adds similar thrust to an amusingly silly I Feel Pretty, from West Side Story, before the girls get serious for Kurt Weill's September Song. Walter Huston's tremulous version had a cupid-like effect on Joan Crawford in the 1950 film September Affair, and this rendition is highly recommended for any forthcoming Valentine's Day compilations: the harmonies are a true delight, and one of the album's numerous highlights.
The Puppinis may not be the future of popular music, then, but they do wonderful things with its history, reinvigorating the familiar and forgotten with admirable care, and no little flair. Mr Bublé could learn a lot from his favourite Sisters.