Helen Merrill

Merrill at Midnight

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Helen Merrill recorded this lushly orchestrated album in conjunction with arranger/conductor Hal Mooney, with whom she'd previously cut a single, in early 1957. Opening with the moody and gorgeous "I'll Be Around," she moves into almost an art-song mode on "Soft as Spring," and her sound on "If I Forget You" veers perilously close to pop, complete with rippling harp arpeggios, as does "It's a Lazy Afternoon." But Merrill is so beguilingly subtle and hauntingly beautiful in her intonation, and maintains just enough of a blues base to her delivery here, that these songs remain consistent with the rest of the material and with her other output of the era. Actually, the whole album works by straddling all of this territory -- it's simply Helen Merrill and Hal Mooney bending a few genres in a more sophisticated musical setting than usual on her records. All of these elements get pulled together, and wound as tight and powerfully as possible, on the final track, "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" -- that had to be the finish, because nothing else here could top it for sheer, understated power and impact. Merrill at Midnight was also stunningly recorded, an attribute that one hopes will not be lost when and if the album ever gets reissued on CD. (As it is, the only way to get this album on CD, as of 2006, is as part of the four-CD The Complete Helen Merrill on Mercury which, itself, is out-of-print). For anyone who has it, or the old LP, this one's a keeper and in a class by itself, with lots and lots of class.

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