“Norma Deloris Egstrom from Jamestown, North Dakota,” read the cover and the title of her last album for Capitol Records in 1972. Her real name and her real hometown, but some folks might have taken it for a concept record about a small-town gal lost in the big world. And maybe, at one time, that was Peggy Lee. But not here; this digital-only collection, made up of 72 radio tracks not intended for commercial release, finds her in charge and secure enough to wear the cloak lightly. Accompanied on most of the cuts by Buddy Cole’s Four of a Kind featuring her first husband, guitarist Dave Barbour, she’s settling into postwar America with the rest of everybody.
“I’ll Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” kicks in with a plaintive sax that sounds like the rest of that backing track: lost on its way from Jamestown. It’s very early morning or very late evening—good getting-lost music, and Lee, mourning her missing man (who might be out for a night, a week, or God knows), gets her strength from another kind of strength, her resolve to hang on until this fellow solves the mystery. A charge into double-time; now our sax man’s trying to shake off the fug too. A lick of guitar follows and we’re back with the brakes on. Home, for better and worse.
Postwar started a long time ago, natch. A lady I know who’s at least my age (born between the deaths of John and Bobby) knew Peggy Lee’s name, but ventured, “A country singer?” So everybody, know this: She sang anything she pleased, though she was prejudiced toward the songs she co-wrote, often with Barbour, whose intimacy with her extended to a deceptively easy-sounding musical give-and-take. She sang behind the beat a lot, but she bunched up short-note runs to compensate.
You shouldn’t take her for granted from the obvious songs, even if you remember her obvious songs. The whole thing’s sprawling and probably too much to take at one sitting. But it holds a universe.