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Monday, March 6, 2017

Barbara Lewis: It's Magic


1) It's Magic; 2) The Shadow Of Your Smile; 3) Let It Be Me; 4) Quiet Nights; 5) Since I Fell For You; 6) Don't Forget About Me; 7) I Only Miss Him When I Think Of Him; 8) Yesterday; 9) He's So Bad; 10) A Taste Of Honey; 11) Sorrow; 12) Who Can I Turn To.

You gotta love those old style liner notes — "Each cut weaves a different spell, and one is made heady with the potion that is the liquid voice of Barbara Lewis — here curving around a note, wavering just a hairbreadth, there full and round one moment, trailing off the next, now breathy, now misty, now pleading, now desiring, now sad, now exciting, but all musical", writes New York-based disc jockey Enoch Gregory, alias "The Dixie Drifter", in his desperate bid to help Atlantic sell a few more copies of Barbara Lewis' fourth (third?) LP. But even that kind of sweet-talking did not help — fact is, in mid-1966 pop and R&B audiences were not nearly as entranced about curving around notes and misty-pleading-desiring vocals, certainly not if they were so totally old-fashioned in style as Barbara's singing is on this album.

For It's Magic, the label commands Barbara Lewis to morph into Doris Day — starting with the title track — and then turn everything into Doris Day, whether it be Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carole King, or the Beatles in the beginning. She's not too bad as Doris Day, but compared to these sugar-sweet arrangements and performances, even Doris Day comes across as Madonna — so completely purged they are of any humor, irony, sexiness, and, well, everything that we usually appreciate in classic R&B. It's like Atlantic were going totally anti-Atlantic here, marketing a singer for the tastes of a respectable white middle class family circa 1952 instead of... well, it's not as if respectable white middle class families had completely vanished off the surface of the Earth by 1966, but they sure as hell weren't likely to go hunting for Barbara Lewis, either.

It is not clear to understand the logic of this LP, especially considering that it came right off the heels of Barbara's last truly big hit, ʽMake Me Your Babyʼ, a grand Phil Spector-like lush soul number with towering strings, angelic vocal harmonies, and a vocal performance that at least showed genuine yearning and passion, even if the song itself, written by Helen Miller and Roger Atkins, was little more than a third-rate Shirelles / Ronettes pastiche. But compared to what we got here on the LP... well, enough with the comparisons. If you want a schmaltz version of ʽYes­terdayʼ, Matt Monro is probably the way to go (at least he was there first). As far as my earbuds are concerned, there's absolutely nothing on these songs bar raw timbre and technique, so I'll just have to stack my thumbs down against Encoh Gregory's verdict, and let time choose the winner. Oh, wait, I do believe it already has.

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