Though she herself was somewhat reclusive in the twilight of her career, Peggy Lee’s musical legacy continues to receive loving attention. Tribute discs appear regularly, with approaches ranging from slavish imitation to radical reinterpretation.
Carol Welsman makes no attempt to emulate Lee’s cool, almost detached delivery with her I Like Men, her eighth recording to date. Rather, she delivers a collection subtitled “Reflections on Miss Peggy Lee,” in which she applies her perfect pitch to a collection that honors rather than imitates Lee’s musical attitude and accomplishments.
Welsman is also a first-rate pianist, though her understated approach isn’t out to dazzle. Coupled with her impeccable phrasing, backed by a fine cast of musicians, she saunters through a program of tunes either written or made famous by the late Ms. Lee, with one original tossed in for good measure.
Welsman favors Latin rhythms, with many of the arrangements here featuring busy but bouncy percussion with tricky (though never distracting) rhythmic twists. Most tunes are taken at relatively sprightly tempo – Welsman’s having fun here – but she gets suitably reflective on a quietly contemplative “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” and the wistful “Remind Me.” Lee’s own “Johnny Guitar” (co-written with Victor Young) receives a classically cool reading that would do Lee proud. Welsman’s own “Dance On Your Own” (with help from Daphna Ziman) is a gently swinging number, and of course “Fever,” Lee’s signature tune, is included, here benefitting from Welsman’s spare but sparkling piano as the band toys with intriguing time signatures to keep things interesting.
There’s an irresistible playfulness to Welsman’s approach that brings a welcome warmth to her shimmering elegance. Unlike Lee, cool to the point of detachment, she seems thoroughly engaged, with the sheer joy of song a palpable presence throughout the project. While the melodies are generally familiar, a fine cast that includes guitarist Pat Kelley and sax great Tom Scott give Welsman plenty of room to establish her own personality and render each song her own. She does so with appealing aplomb. Highly recommended!