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Monday, August 19, 2013

Brenda Lee: This Is... Brenda

BRENDA LEE: THIS IS... BRENDA (1960)

1) When My Dreamboat Comes Home; 2) I Want To Be Wanted; 3) Just A Little; 4) Pretend; 5) Love And Learn; 6) Teach Me Tonight; 7) Hallelujah I Love Him So; 8) Walkin' To New Orleans; 9) Blueberry Hill; 10) We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, And Me); 11) Build A Big Fence; 12) If I Didn't Care.

Brenda's second LP from 1960 was already a much tighter affair: recorded in about six months' time (as opposed to two years), although still in six separate sessions, showcasing the obsessive perfectionism of her Nashville team. In keeping up with the times — and the times were signifi­cantly influenced by whatever Elvis was doing ever since his return from the army — the record moves farther away from the rockabilly spirit: this time, nearly half of the songs are ballads, and the rest drift between soft, careful, politely danceable Brill Building pop and Southern rhythm and blues. There is still a thin rebellious streak running through the record, but it gets harder to discern it behind the layers of conventionalism, particularly in the songwriting.

The album's big hit, in fact, one of Brenda's biggest, was ʽI Want To Be Wantedʼ, an English translation of an Italian pop song — but, fair enough, Brenda did manage to almost completely strip the tune of its theatrical Italian flavor and imbue it with some Nashville tough-girl stuffing instead: where its Italian versions (Tony Dallara, etc.) were troubadourish (wimpy, that is), the new English words ("I wanna be wanted right now, not tomorrow, but right now!") are sung by Brenda with such power that it's pretty easy to see how the song was destined for red-hot number-oneness in an era of sexual build-up — you could almost see the Beatles as a response to this desperate plea for release. The song itself is a trifle, but the interpretation is pure gold.

There is more to that story: the choice of cover tunes also includes ʽTeach Me Tonightʼ (again, sung with such determination that one wonders who'd be teaching whom), and Betty Chotas' ʽJust A Littleʼ with a decidedly hooliganish drawl in the chorus. I am not implying that the whole album goes like that, or even that these particular songs have a notably stronger erotic effect than so much competition at the time — but I am implying that some of this stuff must have sounded fairly risqué for a 16-year old (even if the exact age still remains undetectable on the record), and that thinking of This Is... Brenda in these terms adds some much-needed thrill.

Particularly since she is still too young to bring in any sophisticated nuance: the purely romantic ballads, such as ʽPretendʼ and ʽIf I Didn't Careʼ, suffer from too much formula, and when it comes to covers of well-known songs, there is not much she is able to add to the legacy of ʽBlue­berry Hillʼ (the speeding up and the playful hiccup are not much help), or to Ray Charles' ʽHalle­lujah I Love Her Soʼ (except to change the «her» to «him»). They're fun (good songs that are very hard to spoil in the first place), but never essential.

Musically, we are offered the same expert Nashville backing here as usual, with more strings and less guitar work than I'd like to hear and only one truly inventive, «muffled» sax solo from Boots Randolph on the ʽLove & Learnʼ shuffle. Still, this is all generally within the pop-rock formula of the time, with tight limits set on sentimentality quotas — it is only the lack of one or two outstan­ding displays of fast-paced joyful aggressiveness, like ʽDynamiteʼ, that are indicative of the curve having narrowly passed its peak; and even without a ʽDynamiteʼ to its name, This Is... Brenda is one of the girl's best and naturally deserves a thumbs up.

Check "This Is Brenda" (CD) on Amazon
Check "This Is Brenda" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. "an English translation of an Italian pop song — but, fair enough, Brenda did manage to almost completely strip the tune of its theatrical Italian flavor and imbue it with some Nashville tough-girl stuffing instead: where its Italian versions (Tony Dallara, etc.) were troubadourish (wimpy, that is)"

    Maybe someday you'll say anything positive about Italy and its music (no small part of the world's musical leagcy), and then we'llk know Doomsday is looming.

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    Replies
    1. You might read my Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso reviews, for starters (or the PFM reviews on the old site) - Doomsday is long past!

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