On Sentimental Journey, actress and singer Emmy Rossum brings her irrepressible personality and stellar voice to songs popularized by some of the most beloved artists of the last century — from Bessie Smith to Frank Sinatra, from Judy Garland to Connie Francis, from Eddie Cantor to Edith Piaf. The result is not only a charming stroll through the American Songbook but also a thoroughly inspired passion project.
Rossum, who was in the Children’s Chorus of the New York Metropolitan Opera (performing with Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti), made her film debut in the Appalachian music drama Songcatcher at age 14 (winning an Independent Spirit Award nomination and duetting with Dolly Parton on the soundtrack) and scored a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Christine in the movie Phantom of the Opera at just 17. Even as her acting career took flight (she is currently co-starring with William H. Macy in the Showtime series Shameless and with Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons in the upcoming feature film Beautiful Creatures), music has remained central in her life.
“I grew up surrounded by classical music singing with the Metropolitan Opera and when I would come home, the house was filled with the voices of Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, and Judy Garland,” Rossum says. “For as long as I can remember, my mother would sing ‘Apple Blossom Time’ to me as a bedtime lullaby. Classics, jazz, and standards infused my childhood.”
Having already released one album (2007’s Inside Out), Rossum hit upon an organizing principle for her second last winter: a musical calendar that would take listeners on an emotional journey through the 12 months of the year. “Each month has a certain quality to the light, a temperature, and a feeling, so I started going through old songs and choosing ones that felt like a certain time of the year,” she says. “It was all very instinctual and experimental. I certainly didn’t expect it to turn into a big project, but it started to take over my brain and my heart and I got more excited about it as I started finding songs and singing them around the house.”
Each song, she says, needed to either lyrically or emotionally reflect the corresponding month. Some songs were obvious fits, like “Summer Wind” for June, “Apple Blossom Time” for May, “Autumn Leaves” for October, and “Pretty Paper” for December. Others were less literal. “I chose ‘Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)’ for September because, to me, the plaintive melody and lyric emotionally reflect the cold weather creeping in and the sense of melancholy of the fall months,” she explains.
This calendar starts in January with “Sentimental Journey,” a 1945 No. 1 hit for Doris Day. February delivers a Valentine with “The Object of My Affection,” written in 1934 by Pinky Tomlin (Rossum’s version here features a spoken aside by William H. Macy). March reaches back to 1927, and looks to the Emerald Isle with the jaunty, ragtime-y “Four Leaf Clover.” For April, it’s “These Foolish Things,” whose interpreters have ranged from Bing Crosby to James Brown to Michael Bublé.
May blooms with “Apple Blossom Time,” the oldest composition on the album, having been written in 1920. June is “Summer Wind,” popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1966. July is “Many Tears Ago,” August the wistful “All I Do Is Dream Of You” (a 1934 song perhaps most associated with Judy Garland), and September is “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” Bessie Smith’s lament of the fallen millionaire.
October is “Autumn Leaves,” which began as a French hit for Edith Piaf before being given English lyrics and recorded by Jo Stafford, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra. Bobby Darin’s 1962 song “Things” — also recorded by Nancy Sinatra — celebrates November. And “Pretty Paper,” a touching tale written in 1963 by a young Willie Nelson and first recorded by Roy Orbison, digs beneath the surface of December’s holiday season. Rossum leaps into a New Year with a witty take on “Keep Young and Beautiful,” the Harry Warren/Al Dubin song sung by Eddie Cantor in a fantasy sequence in the 1933 movie Roman Scandals.
It wasn’t only the songs that inspired Rossum, but also the entire approach to making music. Produced by Rossum’s friend Stuart Brawley (who also co-wrote and produced Inside Out), Sentimental Journey was recorded over three days at The Village in Los Angeles. Singing into a vintage mic, Rossum was accompanied by a live band (a small and colorfully versatile ensemble), with arrangements by Brawley, Rossum, and Guilio Carmassi). Few overdubs were made, with one notable exception being “Apple Blossom Time,” for which Rossum made intensive study of The Andrews Sisters’ original vocal parts.
“I wanted the album to have the sense of old-fashioned authenticity, which is why I got a bunch of musicians together, put them in one room, and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this in three days,’” she says. “‘I love the sound of 1920’s records, like the Bessie Smith songs I grew up listening to, which is why we mastered to tape. We were flying by the seat of our pants but it all worked out!”
“Whenever I have an artistic compulsion, I follow it,” she continues. “For a while I had been feeling a strong desire to make music again and a strong desire to make this kind of music — songs written and recorded before music became synthesized and computerized-sounding, when it was just simple, beautiful songs and someone standing up and singing them. I know there are generations that are familiar with this music and the original versions, but there's also a whole generation that isn't and I really want to share these songs with that younger generation as well. I've always gravitated toward a classic vocal approach, which likely stems from my training as a child, so I feel incredibly comfortable and happy singing these songs.”