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Vinyl Cave: Catch and release with Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Marion Williams

Here's another batch vintage obscurities, featuring a trio of vocal legends operating somewhat outside their normal fields.

Ella Fitzgerald:Misty Blue
To quote the back cover: "The first lady of song, Miss Ella Fitzgerald, sings the best of the recent big country hits." What? I haven't delved that deeply into Ella's vast catalog, but this one seemed so random I couldn't help but pick it up. And odd it is. Listeners who have just been craving the combination of Ella and countrypolitan must find this immediately. The rest of us will mostly just remain confused as to how this album came to exist. It's certainly not bad, exactly, but Fitzgerald does sound rather uncomfortable and never lets loose amidst such stiff arrangements. The highlight for me was an improbable cover of Wanda Jackson's "This Gun Don't Care," just because. (Capitol ST-2888, 1968)

Peggy Lee: Mirrors
Torch singer Peggy Lee had a left-field return to major pop success at the end of the '60s with the undeniably awesome "Is That All There Is." That song was courtesy of a pair of legends who were similarly refugees of an earlier era: the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with an arrangement assist by young turk Randy Newman. Rather than capitalizing on the Lee-Leiber-Stoller collaboration, the Capitol label promptly cobbled together an album of mostly unrelated tracks, and further singles chart success was not forthcoming.

However, the producers and Lee did make a full album a few years later -- the now-obscure Mirrors. A loosely bound concept album of cabaret-style material in the vein of the earlier hit, it was mostly ignored on release but has developed a cult following over the years. I can see why ... it's reminiscent of, say, Scott Walker's early solo albums without being quite as dark or dissonant, and today will probably appeal more to fans of those sort of records than it ever would have to Lee's own fan base. An intriguing experiment, Mirrors is well worth checking out by listeners looking for something different. (A&M SP-4547, 1975)

Marion Williams: Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go
Legendary gospel singer Marion Williams made a handful albums for Atlantic, the best-remembered of which is Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go. Produced by Roberta Flack and Joel Dorn, Standing is a nearly full-fledged attempt at a secular crossover, with only one traditional gospel number to be found on the program (the title track, by Thomas A. Dorsey). Included are some songs from the era one might expect on a project of this nature; "My Sweet Lord," "Heaven Help us All," "Wicked Messenger" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" are the most obvious. Flack and Dorn provide Williams with a somewhat low key jazzish setting, the players including heavy hitters such as Joe Zawinul, Ray Bryant, Bernard Purdie and Keith Jarrett, as well as the most restrained backups I've ever heard from the Dixie Hummingbirds. Williams sounds great, of course (and may have the definitive version of Percy Mayfield's "Danger Zone" here), but this album could have really caught fire if everyone loosened up a bit. (Atlantic SD 8289, 1971)

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