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Peggy Lee/Benny Goodman: The Complete Recordings 1941-1947

In August 1941, Benny Goodman chose the then-unknown, 22-year-old Peggy Lee to replace Helen Forrest as vocalist with his band. Two-and-a-half years later, as annotator Will Friedwald notes, she departed from the Goodman band with a national reputation, a hit record (“Why Don’t You Do Right?”) and a husband, former Goodman guitarist Dave Barbour, who subsequently served as her music director and songwriting partner. The Complete Recordings 1941-1947 collates 38 Lee-Goodman recordings, including three alternate takes and three 1947 reunion sides recorded for Capitol after Lee had launched her solo career. On the vocalist’s earliest singles with Goodman, cut within days of her joining his band, Lee is virtually unidentifiable, stiffly singing charts written to suit her predecessor’s vocal range. By the end of 1941, she sounds more comfortably situated, although still boxed in by the band’s arrangements and unable to generate much warmth backed by her boss’ technically accomplished but icy clarinet. Lee’s mature opalescent style-subtle, introspective, and rhythmically supple-only emerges on two Goodman small group sides, “Where Or When” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

On the bulk of these recordings, which have been sonically restored and handsomely packaged, Lee is clearly a work in progress, a talent in the early stages of self-discovery. A single-disc anthology, with third-rate novelty tunes and lachrymose wartime ballads excised, would have sufficed for most of the singer’s admirers. More interesting historically than musically, The Complete Recordings will be best appreciated by collectors determined to possess every note that Lee ever recorded.

Originally Published