BRENDA LEE: REFLECTIONS IN BLUE (1967)
1) Here's That Rainy Day; 2) You'll Never Know; 3) Baby Won't You Please Come Home; 4) Can't Help Falling In Love; 5) I'll Only Miss Him When I Think Of Him; 6) Am I Blue; 7) If I Had You; 8) Close To You; 9) Little Girl Blue; 10) I Will Wait For You.
This one's sort of a cult favorite — all of a sudden, Brenda's producers decided to add an unexpected twist to her balladeering image, and recast her in the image of a moody vocal jazz performer, sort of like a Rosemary Cloonie or a Blossom Dearie. Normally, that's a smart move: you can allow yourself to remain sweet, sappy, and sentimental, but at the same time pretend to true emotional depth and gain points with the critics. But does it really work with Brenda Lee?
I mean, we all have to ask ourselves that question at least twice — if only to beat the common prejudice against «turf-shifting»: naturally, Brenda Lee is not a well-trained or deeply experienced jazz singer, and one either has to be completely ignorant of that field, or allow a certain degree of tolerance for the «amateur intruder», in order to judge the whole thing impartially. It also makes matters twice as bad when, like your humble servant, one has fairly little tolerance for «vocal jazz», particularly orchestrated sentimental vocal jazz, in the first place, and requires a performer of outstandingly unique quality (such as Ms. Billie) to override the intolerance.
That said, it's not as if the problems of Reflections In Blue were all that different from all of Brenda's problems in the post-1962 era. There are no technical flaws to her voice, but the delivery on all these songs — regardless of whether they deal with loss of love or discovery — is always the same: loud, powerful, professional, monotonous, predictable, and perfunctory. Okay, so she respects the melody and the lyrics sheet, but that works fine for an evening's entertainment in a local jazz club, not for a record with supposed replay value. Okay, so some of the songs are acknowledged classics of the genre, but the overriding lush strings reduce them all to the lowest common denominator. And whoever came up with the sequencing that places the old aching classic Bessie Smith tune ʽBaby Won't You Please Come Homeʼ right next to ʽCan't Help Falling In Loveʼ should be hung, drawn, and quartered.
In any case, all credibility goes out the window when an album like this finishes on such a patho-bombastic note as ʽI Will Wait For Youʼ: nothing against Umbrellas of Cherbourg in general, but they fit in with Bessie Smith about as well as milk with pickles. I am not saying that Brenda was completely «out of it» — I mean, let's face it, 1967 was as much the year of Barbra Streisand as it was the year of Jimi Hendrix — I do mean, however, that Reflections In Blue crudely and cruelly nipped the «para-Motown transformation», attempted with ʽComing On Strongʼ, in the bud, and that, in the end, it won her nothing. Yes, in terms of song selection and overall image, it is a step forward from the totally empty balladeering of yesterday, but one that still would not allow the girl to properly compete with the big names. A historical curio, worth getting to know for reasons of perspective, but for little else. Oh well, at least it somehow stands out from all those other faceless albums, so indistinguishable from one another.