BRENDA LEE: ALL THE WAY (1961)
1) Lover Come Back To Me; 2) All The Way; 3) Dum Dum; 4) On The Sunny Side Of The Street; 5) Talkin' 'Bout You; 6) Someone To Love Me; 7) Do I Worry; 8) Tragedy; 9) Kansas City; 10) Eventually; 11) Speak To Me Pretty; 12) The Big Chance.
Definitely a step back up from Emotions — in fact, this one LP should probably rank as one of Brenda's most well-balanced, stylish, and intelligent records, as far as her pop formula could carry all these things. The ballad-to-rocker ratio is normalized to about fifty-fifty; the actual ballads and rockers are diverse, once again with a clever mix of ancient oldies, recent oldies, and newly penned material — and somehow, most of this stuff happens to be designed or re-designed with flashy vocal and / or instrumental twists, well suited to Brenda's vocal abilities and the musical skills of her Nashville backers — and every once in a while, the music rises well above the usual easy-listening pablum levels and becomes almost endearing.
Thus, ʽLover Come Back To Meʼ is updated here to match the demands of early 1960s dance-pop («rock'n'roll» would be too tough a term), but it's almost odd to hear Brenda sing the chorus line in such an obviously commanding tone ("LOVER! come back TO ME!") where most of the jazz greats who sang it before her used a more pleading or generally neutral approach — and she sang it at a far earlier age, too, but then again, maybe «teenage rebellion» is where it's at. Then, right off the bat, she goes for another song that is at least partly associated with Billie Holiday (the title track), and does it equally full justice — the «grand finale» puts a pretty heavy tax on her vocal skills, but it all pays off.
Some of the newly written ballads are genuinely interesting — ʽTragedyʼ, stuck somewhere in between country-western and doo-wop, is brilliantly modulated, nicely hooked, and should be every bit as respectable as the best known Elvis ballads from the same period; ʽEventuallyʼ, written by Ronnie Self of ʽI'm Sorryʼ's fame, is a juicy moody bit with a subtle threat and an unusual and unpredictable dissection of the word "eventually" that may sound forced and uncouth at first, but will get intriguing later as you try to deduce its phonetic symbolism. (Nice and tasty echoing of the vocals by the violins, too).
ʽEventuallyʼ eventually emerged as the B-side to the album's single, Jackie DeShannon's ʽDum Dumʼ, which rose to No. 4 on the charts and is considerably (though not unimaginably) tougher and sexier than its title would have one believe — especially with Brenda adopting her «pirate» tone for most of the song's duration, except for the chorus resolution, where, for a brief titillating flash, the pirate is revealed as a vixen before putting the mask back on again. The expectable Ray Charles impersonation (ʽTalkin' 'Bout Youʼ) is too restrained to be of much interest, but her ʽKansas Cityʼ is fun and defiant enough ("they got some crazy little men there, I'm gonna get me one") to rank up there with all the other ʽKansas Citiesʼ in the world, including the Beatles.
The rest of the tracks may not deserve special mention or discussion, but the bottomline is that it's all consistently entertaining and rarely, if ever, «tacky»: it was not in Brenda's style to take on material that she was unable to handle, and, additionally, this time around, it just so happened that her outside contributors were on a roll, providing her with catchy stuff. It's all fluffy, but when you're barely pushing 18, there is nothing wrong in singing fluff if you do it adequately, and All The Way is perfectly adequate — let's face it, forcing Brenda Lee to sing ʽStrange Fruitʼ at this juncture would not have been a particularly wise move. Thumbs up.
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