Keely Smith’s solo career, begun in the mid-1950s while she was wowing Vegas audiences alongside hubby Louis Prima, maps a rollercoaster path. Following three strong albums for Capitol and a string of solid (though never stellar) releases on Dot was a brief stay at pal Frank Sinatra’s Reprise; then came a long fallow period with a lone album on the Fantasy label and, ultimately, an impressive comeback at Concord beginning in 2000. Though almost all are available on CD, the Reprise and Fantasy albums—among her finest recordings—have remained elusive.
At last, Real Gone Music has unearthed this Reprise gem from 1964 (with the promise of more to come), and it is one of the finest late-night, lights-low vocal albums of its era. Across 11 tracks, her backing quartet, featuring bassist Red Mitchell, plays with a remarkably unobtrusive softness. The focus is on sturdy standards, including a flawless “God Bless the Child” delivered a cappella and “Nancy (With the Laughing Face)” reconstituted as a hug for Smith’s two young daughters.
Newly added is a pair of polar-opposite bonus tracks. The first features terrific interplay with Sinatra on South Pacific’s “Twin Soliloquies,” lifted from the ambitious Reprise Musical Repertory Theater series. Then there’s “No One Ever Tells You,” a syrupy Carole King-Gerry Goffin pop heartbreaker originally written for the Crystals, with Smith adopting a curious little-girl whisper. Released as a single in 1963, it unsurprisingly went nowhere.