Originally recorded in December, 1954, when Helen Merrill was only twenty-five, this recording, now digitally remastered and re-released, was her professional breakthrough. With Clifford Brown on trumpet, arrangements by Quincy Jones, who was himself only twenty-one, and fantastic back-up (Jimmy Jones on piano is especially notable), Helen Merrill was free to unloose her jazz interpretations and her explore her dramatic talent with lyrics. With a lush voice which still retains the sweetness of youth, she offers new variations on familiar melodic lines, provides sensitive interpretations of sad songs, and happily jives to the upbeat.
Billy Holiday's "Don't Explain," one of the saddest songs ever written, is brilliantly interpreted by Merrill, as she reflects the innocence of the betrayed lover who still loves and needs the betrayer and therefore chooses to accept betrayal. When Merrill sings, "You're my joy--and pain," no listener can fail to be moved. Clifford Brown's solo, though more assertive in mood than Merrill, adds to the drama. Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," more upbeat, is classic Merrill, the beautiful lyrics gaining the full romantic treatment, sometimes whispery, with Jimmy Jones's piano in the background and brushwork by drummer Osie Johnson before Brown enters for his solo.
"What's New" by Johnny Mercer receives a slower treatment than usual, Merrill singing in a pensive mood as she reminisces about the past and provides jazz variations to the melodic line. Brown's stellar solo is jazzier, more upbeat and full of improvisation. "Falling in Love With Love," another of Merrill's famous songs, also features a jazz cello by Oscar Pettiford, while the mournful "Yesterdays" is full of vocal variations and jazz improvisation by Brown. "'S Wonderful," the fastest paced, most upbeat song on the CD also features fascinating instrumentation, with lots of fast brushwork, a guitar solo, and Brown's trumpet exploring the full range of the instrument.
Youthful, with an innocent, honest sound, Merrill is no newcomer, having sung professionally since she was fifteen, but here she is at her early best--still having the freshness of youth while having achieved the skills to control her voice and set the pace and mood for the instrumentation in this fantastic album, which features Brown just eighteen months before his death. Those who are fans of Merrill may also enjoy hearing "Just Friends," an amazing CD she made with Stan Getz in 1990, when she was, unbelievably, sixty. Mary Whipple