Peggy Lee returned to Capitol Records in 1957 after a five-year stretch at Decca Records, but it wasn't until 1958 that Decca got around to releasing Sea Shells, an LP she had recorded during her tenure with the label. That the recording sat on the shelf for a while is not surprising given the contents, which make it Lee's most unusual album. Accompanied only by harp player Stella Castellucci and harpsichordist Gene DiNovi, she essays a group of art songs and Chinese poetry (thankfully translated into English) on this thoughtful, esoteric project. On several tracks ("Greensleeves," the Lee-composed "The Happy Monks," Debussy's "The Maid with the Flaxen Hair," "Chaconde"), the instrumentalists are on their own with no participation from the singer. Lee ventures into children's fare ("I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard") and Irish music ("The Wearing of the Green"), but throughout, she maintains a calm demeanor and sings or speaks with precise articulation, reflecting on philosophical and metaphysical concerns. All of that is fine, of course, as long as the potential buyer is aware of the approach. Decca may have finally issued the disc in hopes of getting some sales simply on Lee's name, but nobody should pick this one up expecting to hear anything in the vein of "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)" or "Lover."
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann