Peggy Lee

Love Held Lightly: Rare Songs by Harold Arlen

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In 1988, Peggy Lee was persuaded to leave her casual retirement by the promise of recording some recently unearthed Harold Arlen songs. Her voice was far less attractive and vivacious than it had been even in the '70s, and health problems forced her to record everything from a wheelchair; what's more, when she heard the results, she refused to let the record be released for another three years. Nevertheless, Love Held Lightly is an important album, not just because it saves a few Arlen compositions from the brink of disaster, but also because Lee's unpretty voice serves this material well. When she sings "Come on, Midnight" or "I Had a Love Once," she sings the twilight years with as much poignancy as she sang middle age on her '60s hit, "Is That All There Is?" Her group featured sensitive accompaniment from Ken Peplowski on tenor and Keith Ingham on piano (the latter also arranged and directed). Another highlight, "Buds Won't Bud," blossoms from just another saloon song into a playful, what-the-hell romp. Eight of the songs received their first recording here, including a Lee/Arlen collaboration from decades previously. The only standard, "My Shining Hour" (lyric by Johnny Mercer), comes last, thus allowing Lee to end on a wise, confident note, accompanied only by acoustic guitar.

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