Peggy Lee

A Natural Woman/Is That All There Is?

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The compilers of British EMI's extensive "two on one" reissue series have made some questionable choices in combining two albums originally issued on LP into a single CD, but it's hard to second guess this one, which contains the two albums Peggy Lee released in 1969, A Natural Woman and Is That All There Is? Not only are the collections chronologically sequential, but it sounds like the second one employs tracks recorded for the first one. By the late ‘60s, Lee, like many other veteran pop singers, was attempting to keep current and keep selling records by incorporating current trends in pop/rock into her music. A Natural Woman alternates efforts by two prominent Los Angeles session musicians serving as arranger/conductors, pianist Mike Melvoin and trumpeter Bobby Bryant. This is one of those albums that sounds like these guys (and perhaps Lee, too) came up with the set list by listening to their AM radios, tuned to the local Top 40 station, on the freeway on their way to the session. They hear, say, Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," Sly & the Family Stone's "Everyday People," and Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel," and, by the time they pull into the parking lot, they've got the gist of the arrangement down and proceed to re-create it, more or less, with their fellow session pros, as Lee gamely approximates the hit vocals. When they do use a vintage piece of material, such as "(All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings," or come up with an original ("Lean on Me"), they are still keeping in mind what they heard on the radio, so that the former sounds like watered-down Motown and the latter has the modified R&B funkiness of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life."

The atypical last song on A Natural Woman leads right into Is That All There Is? It's Randy Newman's introspective ballad "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today," and since Newman arranged and conducted Lee's surprise comeback hit with Leiber & Stoller's European-style art song "Is That All There Is?" (inspired by a Thomas Mann short story), and that song leads off the second LP, the mood stays constant. And that mood continues with the next track, "Love Story," another Newman composition, even if Lee, the disillusionment of "Is That All There Is?" notwithstanding, cannot bring herself to sing Newman's fatalistic final couplet, "We'll play checkers all day/Until we pass away." Instead, she substitutes "We'll play checkers in the sun/Playing checkers can be fun." Unfortunately, Is That All There Is? doesn't turn out to be a complete album of similar material. In fact, it is actually a cobbled-together rush job that was assembled on the fly to have an LP in the record racks while "Is That All There Is?," which had been released as a one-off single, was still in the charts. Capitol Records thought nothing of recycling previously released tracks including Lee's 1963 hit "I'm a Woman" (also written by Leiber & Stoller) to pad the collection out to LP length. Toward the end, there are some good songs and arrangements in the art song style of "Is That All There Is?," however, notably Newman's "Linda," which has had its gender switched and is called "Johnny (Linda)." But the Is That All There Is? LP remains a patchwork Peggy Lee album, even suitably paired with A Natural Woman.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 2:55 Amazon
2 4:03 Amazon
2:53 Amazon
4 2:48 Amazon
5 2:40 Amazon
6 3:04 Amazon
7 2:50 Amazon
8 4:11 Amazon
9 2:40 Amazon
10 3:30 Amazon
11 3:18 Amazon
12 4:22
13 3:31 Amazon
14 3:07 Amazon
15 2:31 Amazon
16 4:30 Amazon
17 2:10 Amazon
18 2:35 Amazon
19 3:08
20 3:11 Amazon
21 2:12 Amazon
22 2:52 Amazon
23 1:59 Amazon
24 3:12 Amazon
25 1:50 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick