Brenda Lee holds a unique position in my personal record collecting history as the only artist that both my mother and I owned singles by. This seemingly embarrassment-raising conjunction was heightened by the fact that we both appeared to see the worth of each other's choices. On the one hand was the raunchy, gutsy song belting girl whose apparent maturity on disc was only countered by press reports of chaste teen family-based activity, and on the other was the balladeer whose delivery of country tinged material appealed to those over a certain as yet unspecified age. And before some smart-alec Ace staffers assume otherwise, it was my lovely mum who liked the ballads! All this was of course intentional, with American Decca quickly realising her dual appeal as she hit with examples of both styles. Ace's first twofer issue, Grandma What Great Songs You Sang! (1959)/Miss Dynamite (1960) CDCHD 1027, ran the gamut from cosy to dangerous, from the loneliness of I'm Sorry to the rockin' Let's Jump The Broomstick, and as such introduced the incredible range of the talented teen.
This companion issue brings us the third and fourth albums from Ms Lee that were aimed to establish her further on the US scene with a similar mix of known standards and new interpretations of then contemporary songs that partially crossed over to R&B fields. She adds a youthful perspective to Teach Me Tonight, and enjoyed a US No 1 with I Want To Be Wanted with its English lyrics added to the original Italian ballad. She sings Ray Charles' Hallelujah I Love Him So in undeniably cutsie style, slows down Walkin' To New Orleans and also dips into the Domino hit-songbook for Blueberry Hill that she climbs as if it was built for her.
Along with her contemporary Roy Orbison, Brenda was recording in Nashville where she continued to be overseen by the legendary Owen Bradley who was able to draw upon the best of the town's players to cut the clean and professional tracks that never detracted from the primary focus on the teenager. With the release of Emotions (her fourteenth Decca single issued since 1956, and title track to the second album here) as the follow-up to I Want To Be Wanted, it seemed that she was being fully positioned in lush string land. The company, whilst fully exploiting this option on this fourth album with versions of When I Fall In Love and If You Love Me (Really Love Me), were wise enough to also steer her towards more pop orientated material with an excellent version of Will You Love Me Tomorrow and the bouncy Crazy Talk. The latter, in the vein of Sweet Nuthin's, surely should have been allowed a single release but no. Never mind, there was still Dum Dum (not included here) to come along a year or so later.
What perhaps is most noticeable on these two albums, apart from the continuing variety of material, is the assuredness on both Brenda's and the company's part in presenting her to the public. She truly sounds like the seasoned pro that she was, and the arrangements of the better-known standards remain restrained enough to allow her maturing tones to drive everything. Thus Georgia On My Mind and I'm In The Mood For Love, as closing songs on the Emotions album, stand up as amongst the richest and most successful versions of these classics. Brenda had, and continues to have, one of the most distinctive and expressive voices to have emerged in the rock'n'roll era one that was able to appeal across the generations as in my own case, and one that could handle lyrics from the sublime to the ridiculous and still keep that same appeal. This twofer issue, together with its recent predecessor, make a wonderful way of re-discovering her talent.
by KINGSLEY ABBOTT