Joanie Sommers was not so modestly heralded on the front album jacket as "the greatest discovery in singing...in the last fifteen years," and her debut did reveal a vivacious vocalist exhibiting a tremendous amount of depth for someone still in her teens. Released in 1960, Positively the Most consists of a dozen Great American Songbook entries with distinct arrangements by the top-shelf talents of Tommy Oliver and Marty Paich. Rather than attempting to market Sommers as an old-style balladeer, the smart jazz and pop scores not only update the familiar titles, but likewise provide the perfect point of departure for the singer and her audience alike. The opener, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," is one of two items from the Cole Porter catalog. Her frisky vocals are matched by the uptempo instrumentation as she exudes the lyrical double entendre, while maintaining a mature dignity. Sommers playfully glides over Paich's samba-tinged "Something I Dreamed Last Night" with ease and just enough room to show off her considerable range of interpretive skills. Tommy Oliver's dramatic approach to the Rodgers & Hammerstein staple "It Might as Well Be Spring" is a prime opportunity for the singer to reveal herself in the "torch" tradition. The organic fluidity in Sommers' delivery takes on a storybook quality rooted in improv, yet steeped in the drama inherent in songs from the stage and screen. This is not surprising, as it had initially been written for the musical remake of the 1945 film State Fair. Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light," is a return to a jazzier big-band sound. Sommers' subtle girlish charm simply glistens against the sassy brass interjections and brisk counter-melodies. Conversely, the slow and tempting "Heart and Soul" stands out from the pack with plenty of Sommers' introspective intimacy.
Much of Paich's true artistry lies in his uncanny ability to present performers at their best -- vocalists and instrumentalists alike. A prime example can be heard as Sommers mixes sensitivity with a profundity of character, ultimately conjuring up the likes of Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. She switches the mood into high-energy overdrive, closing out the first side of the LP with a rousing rendition of "I Like the Likes of You." Another distinction occurs as a wonderfully warm and inviting "What's New" predates and arguably foreshadows the stylish collaboration between Linda Ronstadt and Nelson Riddle some two decades on. The second Cole Porter powerhouse is a rowdy "So in Love," as Sommers keeps a lid on the hot-steppin' proceedings, sporting buoyant yet even-tempered leads. Her sultry side resurfaces on "Oh But I Do," while "Old Devil Moon" is a highlight as the hypnotic cha-cha rhythm churns beneath Sommers' potent phrasing. "Just Squeeze Me" bestows Paich an opportunity to augment Sommers in the context of an Ellington classic. There are hints of Sarah Vaughan and once again Lena Horne as Sommers coos her way through the selection. Positively the Most wraps up with a full-throttled and wailing "Just Too Young for the Blues" that is perhaps a reference to the artist's dearth of time on the planet thus far. However, as evidenced on this long-player, she unquestionably possessed talents well beyond her years. In 2007, Collectors' Choice Music coupled Positively the Most with 1964's Softly, the Brazilian Sound, making both available after years out of print. ~ Lindsay Planer
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