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Peggy Lee: Peggy at Basin Street East

Like legions of other Peggy Lee fans, I never had reason to question the authenticity of Basin Street East (Blue Note), accepting that it was, as billed, “recorded at the fabulous New York club” during Lee’s fabled gig in early ’61. Turns out, though, that neither Basin Street East nor either of Lee’s other “live” outings from that era-1959’s Beauty and the Beat! with George Shearing and the ultrarare Two Shows Nightly from ’68-were quite as legit as Capitol led us to believe. Peggy, the penultimate perfectionist, demanded that all three albums be reshaped and, to varying degrees, rerecorded within the safely controllable confines of a studio, then sweetened with audience applause. How sad to learn, then, that there has never existed an entirely genuine “live” recording from the days when Lee ruled as queen of the supper-club circuit. Not, that is, until now. Thanks to some diligent detective work by producer Cy Godfrey, Lee’s engagement-ending performance from February 8, 1961, can be heard in its entirety on Peggy at Basin Street East: The Unreleased Show (Collectors’ Choice). As Godfrey recalls in the liner notes, he was nosing around the Capitol vaults when he came across a series of mislabeled Basin Street “safety” tapes that fortuitously turned out to contain the complete February 8 date. Double the length of the stingy original LP, the new disc includes more than a dozen additional songs. A misty “Call Me Darling” substitutes for “Moments Like This,” and the far more interesting “The Most Beautiful Man in the World” replaces “The Vagabond King” in the first medley. Lee also adds her sizzling, Afro-Cuban “Heart” and an ethereal “I’ve Never Left Your Arms,” and finishes with a spirited “greatest hits” encore. The disc does, as expected, suffer a few minor technical setbacks. Apart, however, from occasional moments of inaudibility (including unfortunate muddiness during Lee’s spoken introduction to her Ray Charles tribute), The Unreleased Show remains a rare and vibrant testament to Peggy at her unedited best.

Originally Published