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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Peggy Lee
Rare Gems & Hidden Treasures

 


Poor Peggy Lee! The age of the compact disc has not been very kind to her body of work. When CDs first came out in the early 1980s, she was one of the last great singers to be featured on the new medium. And when she finally was, it seemed that the same Greatest Hits package was released again and again with very few variations. From the 1940s up until the early 1970s, with one break for Decca Records, Lee recorded a mountain of seminal material for Capitol Records, but you'd think Fever was the only thing worth remembering based on her CDs. This is especially odd when you consider how many people really love Peggy Lee. We've never met anyone who doesn't like her. It's instead always admiration of varying degrees.

Very slowly, the situation is changing. This collection, Rare Gems and Hidden Treasures, is a step in the right direction but when you consider all the material under Capitol's control, is this really the best we can do? The programming sounds as if it were done by a chimp in proximity of a dartboard with the names of all her songs on it. The sequencing is all over the map. The tunes range form the most beautiful of standards (While We're Young) to the most inane of novelty numbers (Blum, Blum, I Wonder Who I Am). Before we start pulling out these "gems and treasures" like the hokey psuedo-gospel of Light of Love or the overt camp of the Babalu-inspired Simalau, why don't we try releasing some of the great Peggy Lee music that hasn't been put on CD yet? And why on earth is there no information on the individual sessions, let alone the recording dates?

Even with its flaws, Rare Gems has lots to recommend. The previously mentioned While We're Young is a classic. Ain't Doin Bad Doin' Nothin' and Eight, Nine and Ten both gently swing like mad and Baby Come Home is a sweet nostalgic heartwarmer in the P.S. I Love You vein, apparently written by Peggy and her guitarist-hubby Dave Barbour. Farewell to Arms has a beautiful melody but it's not the anti-war song you might think. Peggy sings about the arms that used to hold her. This made us wince a bit.

Even with its flaws, this is a fun disc. What really should happen is that Capitol should release her entire ouput on CD. It's the least they could so for one of their most important artists.


Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg
Humoresque
Nonesuch 79464-2 Classical

We don't know a hell of a lot about Classical music. We like it. We know the difference between classical, romantic and post-modern. We have a lot of it in our collection. But for us to provide an intelligent, insightful review is as silly as broadcasting an inane quiz show during prime time and expecting America to watch. Oh wait, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is a hit. Therefore, we humbly suggest you get a hold of Humoresque by violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.

Humoresque is Dvorák's instantly recognizable salon masterpiece. It was also a film starring John Garfield and Joan Crawford, made in a time, long before the Sing-a-Long Messiah was introduced, when classical music was "important". This disc features the music in the film and it's so clever that it's hard not to love it. Almost every piece is a violin tour de force, often with a full orchestra and sometimes with just a piano. It's slightly camp, a bit piss-elegant and always entertaining.

You will recognize, along with Humoresque, the Carmen Fantasie, The Flight of the Bumblebee and probably the Tristan and Isolde Fantasie. We actually like Carmen and Tristan compressed down from the original operas to these long medley formats. From the Great American Songbook are You Do Something to Me, Embraceable You and What Is This Thing Called Love. Embraceable You is completely over the top. You can imagine soloist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in a full strapless evening gown playing her heart out, milking every nuance out of the melody and breaking down and crying after her performance. The two Cole Porter numbers are fine except they have bland, modern vocals by Judy Blazer and her voice is a real mood killer.

In listening to Humoresque, your world becomes black and white. The coldwater flat you call home becomes a posh apartment on Central Park West. You no longer roam the halls in your baggy sweats from Walmart. You don the smartest of evening clothes. Your every utterance is loaded with insight and meaning. The beauty of "serious" music obsesses your soul, and yet you remain tortured because your fingers can't produce the exact same sounds that haunt your dreams. A cup of coffee is a nickel.

Someone wiser, and more mature, will have to tell us if Salerno-Sonnenberg is as good as we perceive her to be. Her solos are thrilling, and judging from the whole concept of this album, she has a good sense of humor.


Shelby Lynne
I Am Shelby Lynne
Island 314546177-2 Pop


Shelby Lynne is an obviously talented country singer who has been trying to figure out her place in the sun. Years ago, we reviewed and enjoyed her Temptation album. It was a nice Big Band Country Swing affaire and while we haven't been tempted to play it again, we left with the firm impression that Ms Lynne was going somewhere.

Apparently a lot of people in the business felt that way. Her various albums have had a bit of this and a bit of that but nothing so far as caught much fire. This new album, I Am Shelby Lynne, should have done the trick. Mixing Country and R&B is nothing new but it's an idea that hasn't worked well since Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The problem with I Am Shelby Lynne is that despite the trappings of R&B, there's very little of it here. There are horns and beats and chorus' that you can sing along with, but it's not soul. The lyrics are trite and the melodies non-existant. One track, Where I'm From, starts out as if it's going to be a winner, but by the chorus, Lynne loses steam and the chorus is just a chant, in bad French no less. It's more like a Lynn is trying to join the the popular troup of modern chick troubadors like Jewel, Tori Amos, Alanis Morrisette, et al, when she should be channelling Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin or even k.d.lange.


Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete
Vince and Bola
Fantasy FCD 24756-2 Jazz

Vince Guaraldi was an adequate and occasionally very good jazz pianist. Then he, like so many others in the late 1950s and early '60s, went Latin. But rather than just add a bongo or two, Guaraldi developed a beautiful new style that embraced the minimalism of the Bossa Nova while retaining a pop sensibility. His big hit was Cast Your Fate to the Wind, an infectious pop instrumental with just a touch of jazz but his standard fare was light, interesting jazz with a touch of pop. A few years later, he'd score big again as the composer of the Charlie Brown TV specials, but to our ears, it's his Latin phase that is such a winner.

During this period, he teamed with guitarist Bola Sete and recorded three very good albums, From All Sides, And Friends and Live at El Matador. The latter two are on this new collection from Fantasy. It's "easy listening" in the best sense. There's nothing too taxing and boiling point is rarely reached, but it's incredibly pleasant without being insipid. The two share solos without stepping on each other's feet and it's obvious that everyone is having a good time.

Vince Guaraldi is one of our heroes and this would be an excellent way to discover him.


Sept 2000

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