Peggy Lee is one of the greatest of all popular singers of the century. Her voice, with the texture of a sugared almond, is recognizable within a few syllables and she has an intelligent feel for language: Peggy lets the lyric work for her, and never loads it with false drama.
Her singing style is the result of a perfect blend of instinct and experience. She keeps her vibrato spare and her volume low. She avoids long notes and glissandos - and sends her feelings down the quiet center of her notes. And above all: she is a rhythm singer, who moves all around the beat and swings intensely.
The always eclectic Maria Muldaur, whose previous albums have paid tribute to Shirley Temple and blues women of the '20s, takes another musical detour in this collection of songs associated with Peggy Lee. In addition to her cool, sexy, relaxed voice, Lee was arguably more talented than other vocalists from her era. As a songwriter she co-penned some of her own material, including the swinging "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'" with Duke Ellington, which features the witty double entendres that spice several other songs. Muldaur possesses a similar ability to purr ("Some Cats Know") or sizzle (an opening tour de force of "Fever" and "Black Coffee") without breaking a sweat. So this collection of 12 tracks, backed by a talented yet restrained eight-piece band, is a natural extension of her vocal strengths. The stylish, retro arrangements include vibes and big-band-styled horn charts that sound as authentic as if they were recorded in the '30s. Even though there are some finger-popping swing numbers (a zippy duet with Dan Hicks on Ted Shapiro's "Winter Weather" is especially peppy), a late-night, languid blues-jazz vibe dominates.
This is a wonderful four-disc collection of tracks from Peggy Lee's first solo stint with Capitol Records in the mid- to late-1940s, shortly after she left her spot as a singer with Benny Goodman's band in 1943, and her early sides for Decca Records, who signed her in 1952. While many would argue that her best work was done a decade later during her second go-round with Capitol, the selections here (many of them done with husband Dave Barbour and his orchestra) show an assured vocalist with a firm understanding of the pop side of jazz.
Dream Street captures Peggy Lee at her most intimate and melancholy – a song cycle exploring love and loss in uncompromisingly frank terms, it strips away the saccharine and schmaltz so common among the singer's Decca sessions to effectively create the first truly adult music of her career. Lee occupies the same harrowing emotional territory staked out by Frank Sinatra via the landmark In the Wee Small Hours, investing the material with the kind of heartbreak and longing that belies the whole "easy listening" tag – this is music shorn of pretense and artifice, as intense as a primal scream yet beautiful in the way only art of this magnitude can be.