Helen Merrill

Autumn Love

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Helen Merrill gets good support from a group of uncredited Japanese musicians on this 1970s ballad collection. The tempos are slow, the keys minor, the horns muted, and Merrill chooses a batch of songs to match the name Autumn Love, including three with the word "Autumn" in their titles, and two with "September." The traditional pop and show tune material ranges from 1926's Gershwin standard "Someone to Watch Over Me," to 1962's Mancini/Mercer hit "Days of Wine and Roses," with most copyrights from before 1950. Merrill's timbre recalls Peggy Lee's, but her interpretations are more reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan as she flats notes and employs a foggy tone to achieve emotional distance from the lyrical sentiments. Those sentiments are usually melancholy, but even when they are more upbeat, as in "Two Sleepy People" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," Merrill isn't interested in playing the positive feelings. "Two Sleepy People" is normally performed as a slightly comic duet (it was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser for Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in the 1938 film Thanks for the Memory), but Merrill is most concerned with the sleepiness, as she moves from apparent exhaustion to dreaming. Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," the closest thing to a rhythm song here (and a number the singer memorably recorded with Clifford Brown two decades earlier), finds Merrill just rendering the lyrics on the beat before giving way to a tasty electric guitar solo. She is more at home on two songs usually played as jazz instrumentals, Gordon Jenkins' theme song for Benny Goodman, "Goodbye," and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." On such tracks, with the sympathetic accompanists, she makes the listener feel like the setting is an empty club in the late hours, with only the bartender as her audience. (Catalyst Records, a subsidiary of budget label Springboard, licensed this album for American release from Japan's J.J. Records.)

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