Peggy Connelly – That Old Black Magic – Bethlehem mono BCP-53, 35:30 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
(Peggy Connelly – vocals; Russ Garcia – leader; Charlie Mariano – alto sax; Bill Holman – tenor sax; Russ Cheever – soprano sax; Jimmy Giuffre – baritone sax; Pete Candoli – trumpet; Stu Williamson – trumpet; Al Hendrickson – guitar; Max Bennett – bass; Stan Levey – drums)
A search of any number of discographies under the name Peggy Connelly will turn up only two albums. One in 1955 for Nocturne Records: a 10 inch LP entitled Peggy Connelly Sings. The other is this 1956 recording for Bethlehem Records called That Old Black Magic. In a period when Bethlehem had numerous female vocalists such as Helen Carr, Frances Faye, Chris Connor and Carmen McRae, most of whom had good to great careers, what was it that Peggy Connelly didn’t have, that short-circuited her?
Clearly the label thought that Connelly had promise, given the quality band behind her featuring top notch West Coast musicians, as well as being supported by arrangements from Russ Garcia. The songs chosen for the session were mostly all familiar standards from the American songbook so no boundaries were being pushed in that regard. And yet, somehow, it just didn’t come together for the record-buying public. That is too bad, because Connelly’s performance on the album was very good, starting with the opening track “That Old Black Magic”. Although the dramatic signature Billy Daniels rendition had been around since 1950, Peggy’s take on the tune is a more straight-forward Latin interpretation that shows some good vocal range. Charlie Mariano offers a full chorus solo on alto that helps to capture the spirit of the tune.
After this track, the album is the usual combination of ballads and mid-tempo swingers both of which seems to suit Connelly’s temperament. For example the next two cuts offer a perfect example of these contrasts. On “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” Cole Porter’s lyrics are not too maudlin and Connelly covers them with panache. “Trav’lin Light’” is an easy swinger that falls nicely within her vocal range and is spruced up with some tasty guitar licks from Al Hendrickson. There are a couple of unusual musical choices with the Arnold Horwitt & Richard Lewine tune “Gentlemen Friend” and the Rodgers & Hart composition “He Was Too Good To Me”. Neither piece was widely known but Connelly gives each an interesting reading with the former giving trumpeter Pete Candoli a chance to use his Harmon mute throughout the vocal. If there is a misstep in the album is might be the Latin-American arrangement of “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” which may have stretched Connelly’s vocal comfort.
In the original liner notes written by Joe Quinn, he offers the following quotation which is salutary: “Volumes have been written about the struggle for recognition and acceptance in the entertainment world. …Her first efforts on record suggest an increasingly healthy career for many years to come.”
TrackList: That Old Black Magic; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; Trav’lin’ Light; Ev’ry Time; It Never Entered My Mind; Why Shouldn’t I; Gentlemen Friend; What Is There To Say; He Was Too Good To Me; I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’; Fools Rush In; Alone Together