Peggy Lee – The Lost ‘40s & ‘50s Capitol Masters – EMI Music (2)

by | Dec 22, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews

Peggy Lee – The Lost ‘40s & ‘50s Capitol Masters – EMI Music Special Markets (2 CDs), 109:01 ****1/2:
(Featuring the vocals of Peggy Lee with Dave Barbour and His Orchestra, The Benny Goodman Sextet; Louis Prima and His Orchestra, Johnny Mercer, Mel Torme and many others)
To call Peggy Lee a successful pop singer may be an understatement. Over the course of six decades (including a memorable stint with Benny Goodman), she became a virtuosic song interpreter. Her influence has been acknowledged by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Bette Midler and Dusty Springfield. She was comfortable in big band numbers, jazz, blues and topical popular music. Her version of “Fever” is regarded as one of the best jazz vocals of all time. The album, Black Coffee (1956) made her a star. In 1969, “Is That All There Is?” won a Grammy and remains the quintessential expression of existential melancholy.
Lee was an accomplished songwriter. Her credits included lyrics for three songs from Disney’s “Lady And The Tramp”. She contributed lyrics to Duke Ellington, Dave Grusin, Steve Allen and Cy Coleman. As an actress, she received an Oscar nomination for Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), and musical accolades are too plentiful to mention. Talent and charisma inhabited this “singer’s singer” who recorded into her seventies.
Peggy Lee – The ‘40s & ‘50s Capitol Masters is an extensive retrospective of Lee’s earlier recording catalogue. (And has been reissued before…Ed.]  Thirty-nine songs of varying styles grace this album. There are several numbers that showcase her collaborative expertise with numerous bands. The blues take on “Ain’t Goin’ No Place” (with the Capitol Jazzmen) is downright nasty. Several tracks with former husband Dave Barbour feature the clear sultry voice of a confident artist. “Aren’t You Glad We Did”and “Don’t be So Mean To Baby” have the subtle nuances of Billie Holiday. Jazzy swing comes naturally in songs like “It Takes A Long, Long Train With A Red Caboose (To Carry My Blues Away)” and “What’ll It Getcha”. As a band singer, Lee can swing like Ella Fitzgerald and evoke the heartland appeal of Helen Forrest. Two numbers with Benny Goodman are included. “The Freedom Train” features Benny Goodman, Margaret Whiting, The Pied Pipers and the inimitable Johnny Mercer in a Capitol label fox-trot dream team. “Keep Me In Mind” with Goodman’s sextet is a jazz crooning delight. Lee’s voice is clear and precise, fitting in with the band’s tempo brakes. Even a corny tune like “Goin’ On A Hayride” sounds fresh when sketched by this versatile chanteuse.
Disc Two introduces newer collaborations, notably three tracks from her 1949 sessions with West Coast jazz arranger, Pete Rugolo. “Sunshine Cake” invokes the innocence of Doris Day, while “A Man Wrote A Song” gives Ella Fitzgerald a run for her money. The innate, soulful phrasing is palpable. Other rare cuts include a lively version of “That Ol’ Devil (Won’t Get Me)” with Louis Prima. Two recordings with Billy May (“So Far, So Good”, “My Magic Heart”) are a glimpse into Lee’s acuity with intricate arrangements. She harmonizes with Mel Torme on a strange (almost country) waltz time piece, “Telling Me Yes, Telling Me No”. However, upbeat songs like “Cannonball Express” and melancholic ruminations like “Boulevard Café” are more indicative of her range.
EMI Music has digitally restored these seminal recordings of a truly exceptional singer. Peggy Lee – The Lost ‘40’s & ‘50’s Capitol Masters is a slice of American musical history.
Disc One: Ain’t Goin’ NoPlace; A Cottage For Sale; Don’t Be So Mean To Baby (alternate take); Aren’t You Kind Of Glad We Did; I’ve Had My Moments; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Trouble Is A Man; Music Maestro Please; It’s Lovin’ Time; Ain’tcha Ever Comin’ Back; It Takes A Long Long Train With A Red Caboose (To Carry My Blues Away); The Freedom Train; A Hundred Years From Today; Keep Me In Mind; Love (Your Spell Is Everywhere) Love Ye; What’ll It Getcha?; (I Wanna Go Where You Go) Then I’ll Be Happy; I Don’t Know What To Do Without You Baby; Neon Signs
Disc Two: A Man Wrote A Song; Sunshine Cake; Run For Round House Nellie; Cannonball Express; Don’t Give Me A Ring On The Telephone (Until You Give Me A Ring On My Hand); If I Could Steal You From Somebody Else; Ay Ay Chug A Chug; Something To Remember You By; Climb Up The Mountain; Pick Up Your Marbles (And Go Home); That Ol’ Devil (Won’t Get Me); If You Turn Me Down (Dee-Own-Down-Down); Boulevard Café; It Never Happen’ To Me; So Far, So Good; My Magic Heart; Telling Me Yes, Telling Me No; Shame On You; Goin’ On A Hayride
—Robbie Gerson

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