Rob Lester, LML Music
Some may miss the mystique of “Miss Peggy Lee” (as she was billed in the latter part of her career) in these less aloof, cozier stylings by Sullivan. The uber-cool of Lee is replaced by warmer sounds. There’s a kind of bright glow rather than a gray carbon-copy shadow labored impersonation would bring. Hooray for that. There are eight titles co-written by the tributee, who died ten years ago. Rather than be corralled into a “greatest (commercial) hits” set list and signature songs, the repertoire is an eclectic mix of standards the icon got to at some point in her long career and huge vinyl output and Lee-associated items done in a non-aping but affectionately knowing manner. The giant trademarks “Fever” and “Is That All There Is?”—neither a Lee composition—are noticeably absent (except for a quick quote from “Fever” at the end of “Cheek to Cheek”) and aren’t missed by this listener and longtime Peggy fan.
After all, neither is as flexible as most of what’s been chosen and both are indelible as they were done by the legend.
The two ladies share a certain low-key moodiness that can tastefully segue into sultriness and a breathiness that suggests honesty and intimacy—intimacy of communicating feelings or attraction, but not tiresome put-on seductiveness. And, there’s the sense of Lee’s firmly entrenched and assured rhythmic swing anchored by top-drawer jazz musicians. There are just three of them: the indispensible partner, creative and sensitive master pianist Jon Weber (her co-producer), attentive and skillful bassist Steve Doyle, and the grand master of taste and mood enhancement among guitarists, Bucky Pizzarelli. Arrangements are credited to the teamwork of Weber, Sullivan and Doyle.
Selections by writers of musical theatre and films, from the vast number of possibilities, include The Music Man’s “Till There Was You,” a sublimely ungirdled “I Got Rhythm,” and three Rodgers & Hart gems: “My Romance,” “Nobody’s Heart (Belongs to Me)” and “Lover.” “Lover” is representative of the eschewing of lazy copying: rather than usurping the Peggy imprint with its somewhat frantic, busy treadmill of an arrangement, its rhythms shift and change over and over as it goes along, yet it still has an inner determination and is in its own way far, far afield from the waltz lilt that Rodgers intended.
This album is a true showcase for the versatility and vulnerability of Stacy’s skill set and mood variations (high drama, romance, finger-snappers, sly humor, laments, story-painting) as well as the breadth and depth of the compositions of her subject, representing collaborations with several different writers, including three representing her first husband and great love, the late guitarist Dave Barbour. In the case of the title song to the film Johnny Guitar, we might be safe in also feeling his shadow as she was this time the lyricist—to Victor Young’s melody. It’s truly haunting and drenched in bittersweet melancholia, with a wistful and aching sensibility in the vocal’s colors and phrasing and treatment of the melody and accompaniment. On the other hand, for fun, there’s a fine winking “He’s a Tramp,” which Lee co-wrote (with Sonny Burke) for the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp wherein her voice was used.
Note that the CD is endorsed in the liner notes by Peggy Lee’s granddaughter, Holly Foster Wells. The lady’s legacy is in good hands and Stacy Sullivan is in good voice and good company with these collaborative and creative musicians.