A 50 year expanded reissue of a late-career Peggy Lee album hits the mark.
Peggy Lee – Norma Deloris Egstrom From Jamestown North Dakota (expanded edition) – Capitol Records ST-11077 (2022)/Universal Music Group B0036601-02, ****:
(Peggy Lee – vocals; Earl Palmer – drums; Artie Butler – arrangements, piano; Michael Martian – piano; Louis Shelton – guitar; Larry Carlton – guitar; Gary Coleman – percussion; Victor Feldman – percussion)
Peggy Lee enjoyed a singing career that persevered through seven decades. Her sensual alto voice was expressive and the singer was adept at interpreting songs. Starting as a vocalist for Benny Goodman’s big band, she became a renowned singer and songwriter. Her recording catalogue with Capitol Records is regarded as the zenith. Songs like “Why Don’t You Do Right”, “Lover” and “Mr. Wonderful” were successful and contributed to her solo albums. But when she recorded “Fever” in 1958 (a prior hit for r & b legend Little Willie John 2 years earlier), her ascendancy to stardom was underway. With just a double bass (Joe Mondrago), and drum (Shelley Mann), this song was transformed by Lee who rewrote some lyrics and exuded coolness with finger snaps. As a composer, she co-wrote songs from the Disney movie, Lady And The Tramp, including “Bella Notte and “The Siamese Cats” Lee went on have another successful career acting in television and the movies, most notable as the gangster’s moll in Pete Kelly’s Blues. Peggy Lee was adored by fans and critics alike. Consequently, many younger producers wanted to work with her. Randy Newman did the string arrangements on “Is That All There Is?”. That song became a massive hit winning a Grammy for best vocal performance. It was widely accepted that Lee took a large role in shaping her musical projects.
Universal Music Group has released Lee’s final (the 40th) album for Capitol, Norma Deloris Egstrom From Jamestown North Dakota. This expanded edition includes the original 10 tracks and 7 bonus tracks. Like other transformative singers (Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Bennett), her voice has matured and the subsequent artistic translation reflects this. With an eye on contemporary material, Lee covers Elton John’s film song, “Love Song”. Her relaxed delivery is framed by pop arrangement including horn flourishes and strings mixed in with rock instruments. In a bluesy mode (not unlike “Fever”), the vocals are very sultry and the horns are muscular. “When I Found You” revisits the commercial formula with less impact. In the first of two Leon Russell compositions, “A Song For You” gives Lee the opportunity to reflect her musical personality. The spooky atmospheric instrumentation is an excellent counterpart to the poignant singing. Her phrasing is very jazzy and the vibrato is moving. Whimsical reflection has always been a core part of Peggy Lee’s talent. “It Takes Too Long To Learn To Live Alone” allows Peggy to embrace the melancholy sway and break through the dense instrumentals.
Recapturing a meditative vibe, “Superstar” is more dramatic and the instrumental accompaniment is a nice complement. There is an ethereal interlude that is also engaging. Lee finally embraces her jazz roots on Louis Armstrong’s “Just For A Thrill”. It feels like a late night jazz quartet and this arrangement stands out from the rest of the album. The fluid vocal and authentic bluesy countenance is refreshing. Occasionally the production obscures the vocal dynamics on “Someone Who Cares”. But a scaled down version of “The More I See You” captures the nuanced skill of this iconic performer. The easygoing delivery and innate glow is a perfect fit here. The finale, “I’ll Be Seeing You” may be the best intermingling of studio production and vocal elegance. There are some interesting numbers included on the bonus tracks. An outtake, “It Changes” unfolds like a waltz-time reverie. “Pieces Of Dreams” became a single, but was not included in the original release. It is consistent with the album’s concept. There are 5 alternative song takes .
This is a welcome reissue of a singing legend. While the material isn’t as edgy as her jazz-oriented projects, Ms. Lee is still capable of distilling feeling and mood.
Love Song; Razor (Love Me As I Am); When I Found You; A Song For You; It Takes Too Long To Learn To Live Alone; Superstar; Just For A Thrill; Someone Who Cares; The More I See You; I’ll Be Seeing You;
BONUS TRACKS: It Changes (session outtake); Pieces Of Dreams; When I Found You (alternative take); Someone Who Cares (alternative take); The More I See You (alternative take); I’ll Be Seeing You (alternative take).
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