Lee joined Decca in the early 1950s after leaving Capitol over creative differences. One of the results of the new union was "Black Coffee with Peggy Lee." The album was a jazz project, making Lee, a bold singer and good songwriter, one of the first pop singers to cross over.
The original 1953 Decca release featured eight songs. It was so successful that three years later it was re-released in LP form with four additional songs. The 12-song version has been reissued on CD by Verve.
The album leads off with the memorable title track. No matter how many singers cover "Black Coffee," Lee’s torchy recording is the definitive version. When she sings the line, "I’m talking to the shadows one o’clock to four," she strikes the perfect balance of weariness and hope. There’s no doubt that she’s been there, alone in a room, drinking bitter coffee, smoking a cigarette, wondering what went wrong.
The CD, however, is recommended for more than the strength of just one song.
Lee shows her versatility on "I’ve Got You Under My Skin" and "My Heart Belongs To Daddy," two of the few mid-tempo numbers on the album. She offers fine renditions of these songs and they add a little variety, but they don’t compare to the slow numbers.
Lee’s forte was the way she could make ballads simmer, and there’s plenty of that here. "Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good To You" is a gem in her care. It is vintage Lee - slow, strong and sexy.
Her version of "It Ain’t Necessarily So" is another standout as Lee effectively uses the lower range of her voice to deliver a hushed, bluesy drama.
Born in 1920 in North Dakota, Lee died in 2002. She left behind a legacy of notable recordings, but "Black Coffee with Peggy Lee" is her finest.