This collection of Petula Clark's Polygon Records singles represents the peak of her early British career as a pop songstress. The material was recorded between 1952 and 1955, and most of it was never previously available on CD -- and some have been out of print since the original 78 releases. This is a delightful collection of popular songs, children's songs, and novelty tunes, on which Clark (then in her early 20s) intersects musically with the kinds of songs more commonly associated with Julie Andrews. Her intonation is rich, and her enunciation and diction are so clear that Clark's voice rings like a bell on every number here, even where the interpretations aren't especially ambitious, as on "Smile." She has a special affinity for children's songs, demonstrated on "Christopher Robin," "Three Little Kittens," and "Poppa Piccolino," not to mention novelty tunes like "Little Johnny Rainbow," but she does equally well with adult ballads such as "Helpless" and rousing singalong numbers like "Meet Me in Battersea Park" (co-authored by Clark's own father) or playful torch songs like "A Long Way to Go." And her rendition of "Fascinating Rhythm" is worth the price of the CD. Not much is remembered about Polygon Records, a label that disappeared when it was absorbed into the Pye Records conglomerate in 1955, but the company clearly employed good music directors, based on the evidence here. Some of the backings aren't ideal, but on the best cuts, Clark is backed by first-rate musicians playing lively and imaginative arrangements (including legendary guitarist Bert Weedon and British session stalwarts like Bob Burns and Ronnie Hunt, on clarinet and trumpet, respectively). It's difficult for anyone who enjoys popular music not to appreciate this material, especially the way that Clark presents it -- the gentle, understated jauntiness with which she handles a music hall number like "Somebody" anticipates the care with which she approached her acting parts in Finian's Rainbow and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, never overdoing the obvious. The sound is excellent, apart from a few cuts that had to be transferred off of 78s and show traces of surface noise, and the annotation by Richard Harries is very thorough.
The Polygon Years, Vol. 2 (Meet Me in Battersea Park) Review
by Bruce Eder