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Monday, October 21, 2013

Brenda Lee: The Versatile Brenda Lee


1) Yesterday's Gone; 2) Dear Heart; 3) I Still Miss Someone; 4) How Glad I Am; 5) Almost There; 6) Don't Blame Me; 7) Willow Weep For Me; 8) Truly Truly True; 9) Love Letters; 10) The Birds And The Bees; 11) La Vie En Rose; 12) Maybe.

And by «versatile», I presume, they mean «one that can perform everything, from lightweight pre-war popu­lar songs to profound contemporary material by our illustrious songwriters, like ʽThe Birds And The Beesʼ, for example». Well, truth be told, they may be right, if they are going not with the third meaning of the word in Webster's dictionary («turning with ease from one thing to another»), but with the first one — «capable of being turned round». It must have took quite a bit of turning round, I'd say, to end up with a cover of ʽLa Vie En Roseʼ on one's hands in the middle of 1965.

The album doth add insult to injury by opening in a dishonestly deceitful manner — ʽYesterday's Goneʼ, a fluke hit for the wimpy UK folk-rock duo Chad & Jeremy, is unexpectedly arranged in a rock'n'roll manner, with gruff electric guitars and a King Curtis-style saxophone solo. Not exactly «hard», but probably the toughest sound on a Brenda Lee album in about two years, making the listener salivate for more. But already track number two is ʽDear Heartʼ, a thick syrup concocted by Henry Mancini for Andy Williams, with backing vocals that you thought you'd heard the last of in Disney classics from the previous decade. And off we go...

In all honesty, the interpretation of ʽWillow Weep For Meʼ is extremely «versatile», not to men­tion powerful, and ʽHow Glad I Amʼ is quite competitive when it comes to comparison with the Nancy Wilson original — where Nancy has the upper hand in subtle modulation, Brenda fights back with sheer volume and determination. It is also interesting that her version of ʽLove Lettersʼ managed to predate Elvis' hit rendition by about a year — not that either of them matters all that much in the grand scheme of things.

But a thumbs down all the same, since everything else is (by now) traditionally rotten, including ʽThe Birds And The Beesʼ, which must be one of the worst love songs ever written in an upbeat pop manner (no wonder Jewel Akens never had another hit in his whole life). Bad songs, worse arrangements, formally impeccable, but fully predictable vocals, and, worst of all, the realization that this was all made in the summer of '65... well, couldn't they at least let her cover ʽAll I Really Want To Doʼ? Maybe we'd have no need for Cher then.

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