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Ann Hampton Callaway Fever: A Peggy Lee Celebration (Palmetto)

Callaway finds a fresh angle for the multilayered tilt of Lee’s classic material.

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Cover of Fever: A Peggy Lee Celebration

To take on Peggy Lee phrase-for-phrase, squeak-for-perky-squeak, with those soft sexy whispers, would be by far the easier course. Callaway, wise in the ways of tribute, takes the bridge—or maybe the tunnel—not the overstreet imitation route. Blessed with a sultry, often-throaty delivery, equal to but at odds with her heroine’s chirp, she finds a fresh angle for the multilayered tilt of Lee’s classic material. When she breaks into “The Glory of Love” opposite John Pizzarelli, we quickly learn the latter can’t sing, but man can he sing and plink at the same time, sailing through his solo on that twofer; and if the three voices pull the curtain back on the cheerfulness to its vision of love, or at least love’s glory, as a hungry fire fed with pieces of the self—well, I was saying before about layers. 

“Johnny Guitar,” with lyrics by Lee and music from Victor Young, unspools here as menace, unsolved mystery; we don’t know where this guy came from or where he went (although given the movie it goes with, pregnant with homosexual tension, that fits). “Clair De Lune,” with the nod to the classic piano tune reworked by our artiste, casts a bet upon the waters: Someone will remember, someone will cherish this love, even when it’s gone. Somebody has to, right? Because it was simply that kind of love. 

I sigh as I regard, not the dustbin of history (that would sum up history as organized enough to have office furniture), but simply the dust, of history. But Paul Verlaine wagered his own poem’s beauty against the ages; so did Debussy with his melody; so did Lee, with her unpublished poem furnishing these lyrics; so does Callaway herself. Even with that ever-present dust around our shoes…isn’t it pretty to think so?