Search This Blog

Loading...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Brenda Lee: Johnny One Time

BRENDA LEE: JOHNNY ONE TIME (1969)

1) Johnny One Time; 2) Traces; 3) If You Go Away; 4) Bring Me Sunshine; 5) Help Yourself; 6) Let It Be Me; 7) For Once In My Life; 8) This Girl's In Love With You; 9) Matelot; 10) The Letter; 11) Walk Away.

No Pete Fountain — no extra ray of light to illuminate the dullness. Brenda's last album of the de­cade is at least not nearly as lethargic as Reflections In Blue, and surprisingly diverse in com­parison to most of her mid-Sixties stuff; but the diversity is not propped up by any interesting musicianship — everything is simply drenched in the usual strings, brass, and big orchestral pomp of her Vegas style arrangements. And (big surprise) she is not maturing much as a singer, either. Her take on Brel's ʽIf You Go Awayʼ is just plain terrible.

The title track was actually a small hit, her commercially strongest showing in about two years — as far as lush country ballads go, this one is far from the worst and features a strong vocal build­up: not highly likely an advanced musical listener will be ready to shed tears for the poor girl swin­dled by the protagonist, but he might want to tip that hat to the dynamic punch as we slowly ride the indignation wave all the way to the top. It is fairly well crafted, at least, and deserved a much more tasteful arrangement.

There are some upbeat pop covers here that are perfectly listenable (ʽHelp Yourselfʼ), some honest and respectable, but unnecessary R&B covers (ʽFor Once In My Lifeʼ is a very good early Stevie Wonder song, but if you substitute Stevie Wonder for Brenda Lee, you are not going to get a mind-opening perspective on the limitless potential of the melody), an obligatory take on ʽThe Letterʼ (everybody who ever did covers at the time just had to cover ʽThe Letterʼ — too bad the song was not actually written by Alex Chilton, or his financial troubles would be non-existent), and... well, all that other stuff. Diverse? Yes. Memorable? Well, if the title of the album is John­ny One Time, what would you expect?

And on this note, we are going to finally cut the umbilical cord. The following year, Brenda Lee would release Memphis Portrait, an album that would announce a full turn towards country — and stay there for most of the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. These records are relatively hard to get (even as vinyl rips), even less rewarding to listen to, and besides, I have little interest in review­ing country music, particularly of that order. All I can say is that it was probably a wise decision — as a generic Nashville singer, Brenda could cut it quite convincingly, and it was probably simpler and humbler for her to go that way than go on hanging on the lower fringes of the charts with one faceless, embarrassing pop record after another.

She pretty much dropped out of the recording business after 1991, but last we heard, she did put out a record of gospel duets in 2007, with Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, and Emmylou Harris among the participants — and she still looked quite attractive on the cover (yes, even the hair stays pretty much in the same configuration as always). We can only hope that her life has been happy and healthy, that it will continue in the same way for years to come, and that, God help us, she won't ever get any ideas about staging a «rock'n'roll comeback» («Last Woman Standing» or something of that kind).

13 comments:

  1. Ah, so you've given up on reviewing Brenda Lee. And yet you reviewed all of B.B. King's music? Are you going to review every album Tangerine Dream ever released as well?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have explained the reasons for giving up on Brenda Lee in the review, and the same reasons do not apply neither to B. B. King nor to Tangerine Dream (the latter, fortunately, are still a long way away).

      Delete
    2. Okay, poor choice of words on my part. Instead of "giving up", you just decided that was the end point to the part of Brenda's career that mattered.

      Great job with the reviews! Let's hope you get to "Z"... even if you must get through Tangerine Dream first. >:D

      Delete
    3. Wait, there's Zappa on Z. ;-)

      Anyway, if you want George's thoughts on Tangerine Dream business, there's always http://starling.rinet.ru/music/tanger.htm.

      Delete
  2. Still Brenda Lee's take on Proud Mary (to be found on Memphis Portrait) is quite interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Intersting version indeed, much better than the butchered crap by Ike and Tina.

      Delete
    2. Understandable. Not everybody can understand that kind of aggressive female sexuality - something Brenda Lee of course doesn't deliver. Fortunately for them there is refuge in CCR's sleep inducing original with Fogerty's powerful but bland voice and an unimaginative backing band specializing in dull 4/4 mid tempo stompers. Brenda Lee is obviously more interesting than that.

      Delete
    3. Brenda definitely wasn't the one to put the cunt in country, that's for sure, but how can one write a polite answer to your blatant hatred towards CCR? The Turner-Version of 'Proud Mary' ripped out the very soul of the song, something I always found rather irritating for Ike being a kind of Soul and R&B-Artist. And aggressive female sexuality? Where? She either purrs or shouts, as far as I remember (haven't heard that dreck for many, many years), and if the sick arrangement of the music isn't enough to kill every mood her vocals surely do. I usually like it when an Artist/a Band takes a different approach when covering a song, but this was, is, and always will be offensive bull, at least to me and my ears.

      Delete
  3. If you're not a country listener, I imagine Nashville countrypolitan is the least thing you want to delve into, unlike people like Hank Williams, Buck Owens or Willie Nelson, who can be enjoyed non-ironically by rock fans. Not to mention many of the best soft-rock and singer-songwriter artists of the 70s who have strong country leanings (thinking John Prine or Gene Clark here).

    BTW, Brenda Lee is one of the women who shares the mic with k.d. lang in the last track of "Shadowland", and her voice is instantly recognizable.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You're discontinuing the reviews for much the same reason you skipped Al Green's gospel albums. Gospel and country are genres that you have to listen on their own terms to really appreciate and assess. If you don't "have church" and appreciate the stylistic conventions of the gospel genre (Lots of dramatic organ, shouting, preaching, testifyin'), you'll only be disappointed. I have to admit, I'm a Christian and don't always get into gospel music (Urban or Southern). I respect you for drawing the line where you have, and l gratefully let you off the hook. Just please don't let your next artist be Brian Hyland!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It would be bad for George if he would have to write reviews on Blonde on Blonde and such every day, he would burn out.

    ReplyDelete
  6. When, oh when, are you going to hurry up and give us your review Black Sabbath's new album "13" ... it seems you're purposely avoiding this one, even though it's alphabetically in the neighborhood ...

    By the way George, I really enjoy your reviews and wonder how you find time to write them with all the other responsibilities in your life.

    Jerry

    ReplyDelete
  7. MEMPHIS PORTRAIT isn't a country album.

    It's a soul album. Basically her answer to DUSTY IN MEMPHIS.

    While I am not a fan of Brenda's more MOR material, she really cut loose on MEMPHIS PORTRAIT. You really ought to stick it out for one more album, **then** "cut the cord." She did move on to doing straight country, but that was a little later.

    ReplyDelete