Peggy Lee – The Man I Love – Capitol Records (1957)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2012) PPAN T864 180 gram audiophile mono vinyl ****1/2:
(Peggy Lee – vocals; with orchestra conducted by Frank Sinatra, featuring the arrangements of Nelson Riddle)
In 1957, three important musical figures converged to make an album. Peggy Lee, a former band singer, who had impressed as a jazz chanteuse on Black Coffee had returned to Capitol Records. At the time, Frank Sinatra emerged as the biggest star at the label. His influence allowed him to conduct on Tone Poems Of Color, with the help of arranger Nelson Riddle. [And also on the Alec Wilder instrumental album. It made little difference he couldn’t read music…Ed.] Riddle’s lush arrangements had reinvigorated the commercial viability of Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole. As the preparations began for Lee’s first 12-inch record, it was decided that a conceptual project with a common theme would prevail. Additionally, Lee chose to adjust her style (allegedly at the suggestion of “Old Blue Eyes”) in homage to Billie Holiday.
The Man I Love is a tight orchestral collection of standard “torch” songs. Opening with a Billie Holiday classic, the title cut (Gershwin at its finest) establishes a warm, romantic ambiance. Lee’s vocals are restrained, but demonstrate an emotional vulnerability. At times, she brandishes a lilting, emotional quality. The string/reed interlude is vintage Riddle. The American songbook continues with an engaging version of “Please Be Kind” (Cahn-Chaplin). Using a higher register, the vocals conjure a winsome quality, with a moody sax solo. The final note is reminiscent of earlier Peggy Lee with its low vibrato. Taking on a classic by legends, including Sarah Vaughn, Ethel Waters and Ella Fitzgerald, “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe” (Arlen-Harburg) offers more jazzy phrasing. Lee’s range is expanded with her smoky voice. Small touches like a muted trumpet (“That’s All”) trombone solo (“Just One Way To Say I Love You”) elevate the arrangements beyond template. Drawing from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I, “Something Wonderful” is a gem. Starting off with “stage talking”, the piece moves fluidly with key shifts and finishes emphatically with brass and kettle drum.
“He’s My Guy” revisits the sentimental feel with a measured, steady pulse, anchored by guitar. Again Lee breaks out the vocal inflection of Holiday, as the strings play in signature counterpoint. On tracks like “My Heart Stood Still” (From the Rodgers-Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee), the vocals are folded neatly into the rich orchestra swells. The capacity to inject her personality is evident in the final refrain. A different sound is explored on a rare jazz cover, “There Is No Greater Love” (Isham Jones-Marty Symes). Lee is clearly at home with this late night dramatic context.
There is a very specific formula to the recording. However, the brilliant arrangements by Nelson Riddle and Lee’s understated versatility are a great fit. Recorded in mono, Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered the tapes with unusual clarity and tone quality. The orchestra is full but nuanced and Lee’s voice is mellow and alluring. Audiophile vinyl is the ideal medium for this genre.
TrackList: Side One: The Man I Love; Please Be Kind; Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe; (Just One Way To Say) I Love You; That’s All; Something Wonderful
Side Two: He’s My Guy; Then I’ll Be Tired Of You; My Heart Stood Still; If I Should Lose You; There Is No Greater Love; The Folks Who Live On The Hill
This is a special upscale audiophile vinyl that is worth it!