Album: Rendezvous With Peggy Lee
Artist: Peggy Lee
On Rendezvous With Peggy Lee, the sultry jazz singer takes us on a tour of her favorite subjects: sex, cigarettes and swing music. The music is jaunty, and Peggy Lee’s voice is strong and straightforward. Her ability to effortlessly convey sincerity in every song made her one of the best female pop vocalists of the 1940s. Whether she’s singing the role of femme fatale or tender balladeer, Lee always delivers a genuine performance.
The 12 songs featured on Rendezvous With Peggy Lee (originally released in 1948 as a three-disc 78rpm set, then expanded on subsequent 10” and 12” vinyls in 1950 and 1955) feature Peggy Lee at her best. Backed by her husband Dave Barbour’s jazz orchestra, the tunes crackle with vigor. The band plays tight, and Barbour’s slightly distorted electric guitar is a perfect complement to Lee’s simple yet sexy delivery. For instance, the lively version of “Why Don’t You Do Right (Get Me Some Money Too)” that opens up Rendezvous is a much better match for Lee’s talents than her 1942 recording with Benny Goodman, in which her subtle charisma benefits from the playful arrangement. On the other hand, when Lee opts for a more serious tone, like on the mournful ballads “Don’t Smoke in Bed” and “While We’re Young,” the melodrama is never laid on too thick. Likewise, the colorful instrumentation never distracts.
Aside from the novelty Barbour/Lee original “Mańana,” every song on Rendezvous is a pleasant listen. In fact, the penultimate “Mañana” works great right before “Hold Me,” in which Lee’s longing voice hovers above a free-flowing whirlwind of flute-and-brass crescendos. It makes for a surprisingly epic conclusion that sets her apart from vocal jazz contemporaries like Jo Stafford and paves the way for future torch icons like Julie London.
All in all, Lee’s greatest talent is her ability to be always authentically herself: funny, charming, dangerous and seductive, with a perfect backing band to match her many moods. Even though I don’t know what Lee means when she says she “better get out the encyclopedia and brush up on from ‘schmer’ to ‘schmoo,’” I do know that Rendezvous is one of her best albums.