No great claims need to be made for these two mid-period Capitol albums by the honey-voiced Peggy Lee, the first from 1963 when she was 43, the later recording from 1972. Peggy is in peak form, as languid and downright sexy as ever, in an almost absurdly eclectic selection of songs.
It`s instructive to listen to her voice when tempted to overpraise some of today`s would-be chanteuses. Peggy effortlessly exudes class, seldom raising her murmourous tones above a natural, mic-friendly level. She simply sings, as she always did.
She was one of the first (and indeed few) singers of her kind to cheerfully embrace post-Beatles pop songs, some of which are here. Her cover of the much-recorded A Song For You, by Leon Russell (which must have put his kids through school) can stand alongside arguably the finest version I`ve heard, by Ray Charles.
One or two songs on the first album don`t sound quite as compelling as perhaps they should, with contrary arrangements that seem to work against the song, but I`m not going to say which ones as other listeners will no doubt disagree, which is as it should be. Besides, Peggy obviously loved to gently wrongfoot her fans, bucking trends and refusing to be pigeonholed.
A highlight, again from the Norma Deloris album, is It Takes Too Long To Live Alone, a wry, perfectly sung mid-tempo ballad on which Ms Lee sounds like she knows exactly of what she speaks. It`s followed by a dramatic reading of Superstar, the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song, all brass and crashing drums, through which Peggy`s voice sounds pleading and genuinely hurt.
Then comes the classic Just For A Thrill - another song Ray Charles made his own back in the day. Her singing is faultless. When wasn`t it?
A comfortable The More I See You segues into the closing I`ll Be Seeing You in intimate style, closing this underrated album on a seductive high.
It may well be that I`m A Woman is the better known and liked of these two albums, but there are rewards as great to be had on the later one as on the `63 record. If anything, it has a coherence for which the earlier one occasionally strains.
One more thing. It must have surely been Peggy`s singing of There Ain`t No Sweet Man (That`s Worth The Salt Of My Tears) which inspired redoubtable folk matriarch Norma Waterson to record her equally excellent version some years ago. It all comes around...
This bargain 2-LP/1-CD reissue is yet another Peggy Lee must-have. She`s one singer who never lets you down.
The queen died ten years ago. Long live the queen.
on 25 November 2004
The five stars are for I'm A Woman. It was my first ever Peggy Lee album, purchased on vinyl back in the mid-60s. I had despaired of ever finding it on CD. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. It's simply terrific. A fine remastering job brings out all the nuances of the original performances and produces a musical delight. The songs are great, Peggy has never been in better voice and the arrangements are exquisite. Rather than competing with the subtle vocals, the backing complements perfectly, adding neat guitar and piano flourishes in pieces like Mack the Knife. The second album is a largely disposable item from 1972, but never mind: for my money, I'm A Woman is the best album Peggy ever made.
The first album here shows Peggy at the peak of her popularity in the early sixties, performing a mix of soft, romantic songs and sultry blues songs, though the dividing line between the two is not always clear-cut. The title track was a major American hit for Peggy but the strength of the album is such that it doesn't really stand out. There are many other fine songs here including The alley cat song, I'm walking, Come rain or come shine and a very impressive interpretation of Mack the knife. You're sick of that song? Listen to Peggy's version - it makes it fresh and exciting. Further classics include I'll get by, I left my heart in San Francisco (another brilliant interpretation) and A taste of honey.
The second album may be an end-of-contract release as it first appeared in 1972, the year in which Peggy left Capitol for the second and last time. Don't let that put you off - while it is not one of Peggy's strongest albums, it is well worth hearing nevertheless. This mellow, romantic album begins with Love song, which was also recorded by Olivia Newton-John. Other contemporary songs include A song for you and Superstar, both written by Leon Russell and recorded by the Carpenters. Older songs are represented by The more I see you and I'll be seeing you. A previously unreleased track, It changes, is added to the album for this release.
This twofer is worth buying for the first album alone, but I suspect that many Peggy Lee fans will (like me) enjoy both albums here.