After over a decade as a top-charting female vocalist, Joni James' early- and mid-'60s output is comparatively jazzy, featuring some of her most mature and progressive sounds to date. I Feel a Song Coming On (1962) saw James shed her pinup image for a dozen tracks culled from various American pop music songbooks. This effort's free-form and improvisational accompaniment lends itself well to the vocalist's unique and fresh interpretations of a wide variety of popular standards and, concurrently, new additions to the otherwise traditional lexicon. Joining James is Jimmie Haskell, whose scores are equally inventive as each arrangement swells and ebbs with the unmistakable energy and unity of a spontaneous jam session. The singer's earlier encounters with Stan Kenton's orchestra seem to have paid off quite a dividend as James weaves some post-bop mastery into the uptempo reading of "'Deed I Do" as well as the equally hot-steppin' "On the Sunny Side of the Street." The extended instrumental intros foreshadow the lightly maneuvered vocals that follow. Granted, James is no Ella Fitzgerald; however, she is able to swing with authority on George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" and adds an exceedingly soulful inflection to Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" and, most profoundly, the Creole-steeped "Basin Street Blues." Her more refined style of balladry is highlighted on the gentle "Fly Me to the Moon" and the bluesy torch reading of "My Melancholy Baby." Few vocalists, male or female, have repeatedly proven their versatility and emotive adeptness as has Joni James. I Feel a Song Coming On proves not only her continued relevance as a vocal interpreter but also as an innovator, by stretching her boundaries and displaying her limitless talents.
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