Liner Note Author: Richie Unterberger.
Few R&B singers of the 1960s did sultry better than Barbara Lewis. While the lyrics to her first and biggest hit, "Hello Stranger," are decorous on the surface, Lewis' sly, coolly seductive delivery made it sound like a greeting direct from the bedroom, and not one most men would want to turn down. Lewis also showed her subtle but sensuous side on "Baby, I'm Yours" and "Make Me Your Baby," her only other songs to crack the Top 20 of the pop charts, though that was hardly the only weapon in her musical arsenal. The Complete Atlantic Singles is a two-disc set that complies the A- and B-sides of the 17 45s Lewis released on the label between 1962 and 1968, and it shows off her skills as a songwriter as well as a vocalist (she wrote "Hello Stranger" and several other of her best sides), while also chronicling Atlantic's efforts to figure out what to do with her after "Make Me Your Baby"'s follow-ups failed to break through. "Don't Forget About Me" boasts an arrangement that's a stone's throw from folk-rock, "It's Magic" suggests Lewis could have done well as a jazz vocalist, "Only All the Time" features a remarkably ill-fitting, faux-Dixieland backing despite Lewis' strong vocal, and "Sho-Nuff (It's Got to Be Your Love)" confirms she could take on tougher sounding material and still deliver. However, it's the simpler and more straightforward material on disc one where Lewis sounds most at home (and where you'll also find her three best-known tunes), and though she could sound willful or innocent depending on the mood of the song, her voice always sounded warm, inviting, and subtly well controlled, and her sense of phrasing was intelligent and satisfying. The Complete Atlantic Singles is probably a bit more Barbara Lewis than the average person needs -- the 20-track Hello Stranger: The Best of Barbara Lewis will certainly suffice for most folks -- but this set offers a thorough overview of her most important and productive period, with outstanding audio and informative liner notes featuring plenty of quotes from Lewis herself. Barbara Lewis was one of the most distinctive female vocalists to emerge from the Midwest R&B scene in the '60s, and The Complete Atlantic Singles gives her career the detailed summary it deserves. ~ Mark Deming