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Peggy Lee: Live in London

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Peggy Lee claimed London was her favorite city. She traveled there often, first in 1961, regularly throughout the 1980s and for a final appearance at Royal Albert Hall in 1990. Most significant was a 1977 visit, resulting in back-to-back albums for Polydor, supervised by British composer, arranger and conductor Pete Moore. The first was captured in the studio, the second live at the Palladium. On CD for the first time, they form the backbone of this graceful four-disc set.

In 1972, Lee had ended her two-part quarter-century tenure with Capitol. She jumped to Atlantic Records for two albums before heading to England for the only offshore recordings of her career. The studio release, entitled simply Peggy, finds her in superb voice. Lee was among the first singers of her generation to incorporate contemporary songwriters-Carole King, Randy Newman, James Taylor-into her programs. She successfully adds Neil Sedaka’s “The Hungry Years,” Peter Allen’s “I Got to Rio,” the 10cc hit “I’m Not in Love” and, from A Chorus Line, Marvin Hamlisch’s “What I Did for Love” to her repertoire, and unearths the Johnny Mercer rarity “Star Sounds.” She also includes one original, written with Moore, the achingly introspective “Courage, Madame.”

She is in equally top form on Live in London, focusing on her classic hits while further widening her net with a peppy reading of Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and a “Touch Me in the Morning” far more moving than the Diana Ross version. Lee, notoriously picky about live albums, wasn’t fully satisfied with the results and asked that another Palladium concert also be recorded a week later. But Polydor rushed the album’s release, only using material from the first date.

Disc three of this set at last unveils that second, longer performance in its entirely. It features a wider assortment of her hits and is highlighted by a silken, 10-minute Rodgers and Hart medley. Also included is a brief rehearsal snippet with Lee recalling Billie Holiday. Disc four, a DVD, is from four years later, the 46-minute BBC TV special Peggy Lee Entertains. Lee’s late-career placidity has started to gel (her face barely moves a muscle), yet she remains dazzling. Again the focus is on her hits, but she revisits the Allen songbook for a tender “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and delightfully conquers Stephen Sondheim and Mary Rodgers’ “The Boy From…,” their witty, tongue-twisting sendup of “The Girl From Ipanema.”

Originally Published