Helen Merrill

In Tokyo/Sings Folk

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This two-fer assembles a pair of the little-known but sublime sessions recorded by Helen Merrill in Japan during the mid-'60s. In Tokyo teams the singer with drummer Takeshi Inomata, whose atmospheric small-combo arrangements evoke (and subtly update) her classic Mercury efforts. The set relies heavily on romantic standards like "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," and "I'm a Fool to Want You," all perfectly calibrated to Merrill's lithe, lovely vocals. At first blush, Inomata's cool, textured arrangements emphasize restraint almost to the point of effortlessness, but upon subsequent listenings the album emerges as a model of sophistication and grace. As for Sings Folk, Helen Merrill doesn't just interpret the album's ten songs: she transforms them, breathing new life and meaning into classic dustbowl ballads and contemporary coffeehouse anthems alike. Norio Maeda and Masao Yagi's gentle but vibrant arrangements recast familiar songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," and "Motherless Child" by eschewing shopworn folk traditions in favor of spacious, nuanced jazz settings. Merrill's warm, thoughtful vocals consistently derive new meaning from the everyman lyrics, articulating feelings and experiences that are universal yet at the same time deeply intimate.

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