Peggy Lee

The Fabulous Peggy Lee

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Rarely has an album been more appropriately titled than the Fabulous Peggy Lee. A trailblazing songstress of the 1940s and '50s, Peggy Lee was the rare woman writing her own hit songs in an era when most major artists employed teams of songwriters to write for them. Lee was every bit the strong woman portrayed in songs such as "Fever"; however, as a versatile singer possessed of perhaps the sexiest vocal tone of the era, Lee could change genres in the blink of an eye. The Fabulous Peggy Lee does a fine job of exploring Lee's softer side. "A million years too late/How long did you think I'd wait?" So sings the fabulous leading lady on "You Let My Love Get Cold." The song's musical sway is led by her husband, former Benny Goodman guitarist Dave Barbour. The sweetly melancholy ode is a misty rebuff to a lover who waited too long to make a move. While the Peggy Lee of "I'm a Woman" would spit these lyrics out with unflinching confidence, on this track Lee shows a softer side. It's as though she's acting tough as a front, but her voice has the slightest quiver of hesitation that gives her broken heart away. In this regard, Lee is on par with the great Frank Sinatra in her ability to inhabit a song's lyrical world completely and effortlessly. These same types of nuances creep up throughout the album, making what could be a simple collection of ballads into something more powerful. Irving Berlin's "Love You Didn't Do Right by Me" has the faintest, pleading Billie Holiday undertone. Odd, disorienting bird chirps populate the otherwise lush "Autumn in Rome," while the orchestrations are by turn sleepily restrained and blaringly spunky, as on the Cole Porter romp, " "Do I Love You." Of course, in Lee's smoldering world, it's no surprise that slow-burners are among the album's highlights. "The Tavern" plays like a smoky female response to Sinatra's bleary "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)." "Love is sweet/ But for us it cannot be," sings Lee in a sparkling lilt to a fading lover (the backing strings ply an eerie melody that seems to have drifted in from a sultry James Bond score). "The Gypsy with the Fire in His Shoes" was penned by Lee and features an exotic melody accented by intricate guitars and unique percussion courtesy of a tap-dancing Sammy Davis, Jr. Another number penned by Lee, "Johnny Guitar" is among the album's best-known songs. The theme for the 1954 Joan Crawford/Sterling Hayden film of the same name, it again finds Lee experimenting with Latin rhythms and slipping into a somber, understated Southwestern air. The minimal musical accompaniment (mostly just dusty guitar plucking), truly puts Lee's vocal prowess on display. By being a brilliant vocalist, interpreter and composer, Lee easily earns her "Fabulous" title.

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