by Rex Reed
Honey-drippin’, honey-sippin’ Peggy Lee seems to turn out almost as many discs as Nancy Wilson, so many it is difficult to keep track of them all. But for my taste, they’re all a welcome relief from the slush that piles up at my door every month. A long time ago I came to the affirmative decision that she is one of the greatest magicians a good song could ever wish for, and the intervening years have not altered that opinion.
Have you ever seen perform? The lights have to be just right, the gowns designed just right, the hair coiffed just right, the orchestra tuned just right, the mikes adjusted just right, the air-conditioning turned up just right (she generates a lot of heat) or she just doesn’t go on. This does not mean she is temperamental; it simply means she is perfectionist, one of the few performers who care. That perfection is the key to why she is just about the best singer in the business today, and why, like brandy in the cask, she gets better every year.
The marvelous thing, of course, is that – unlike most female song stylists – you don’t really have to see Peggy Lee to get her message. While most of the girl singers her age have either fallen from grace or retired from the business altogether, Miss Lee has never been in finer vocal or physical condition. I rest my case with this new disc.
The quality of her singing here is enhanced by the arrangements, which mostly allow her to float pensively in a hammock of guitar clusters woven together with luminous strings. But there are other sounds in Ralph Carmichael’s arrangements too: bells and pianos, Toots Thielemans’ back-porch harmonica, even a lusty Herb Alpert swing on “Somethin’ Stupid.”
There is really one terrible song (“Release Me”) which has no business in the collection, but even when the material fails Miss Lee, as it occasionally does, she can coax it into behaving in her own breathless style. (She even fashions an entirely new tone poem out of “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.”) Fortunately there are lots of good songs here – “Makin’ Whoopee” is sung with enough good humor and lazy-girl sexiness to insure its permanent place in the Hall of the Fame.
No question about it. Somethin’ Groovy is a recording of largely expressive and perceptive songs sung with warmth and taste and almost supernatural class.