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Golden Earrings by Joe Beck & Laura Theodore

Golden Earrings is one of those projects that’s so natural for the participants that one wonders why it didn’t happen sooner. Instead, it happened just in time.

This dedication to Peggy Lee and her husband-guitarist Dave Barbour represents the last recording of Joe Beck, another guitarist who performed with Lee. In Beck’s case, he accompanied her for over ten years. Though many listeners remember Lee primarily as a singer, lately her numerous compositions are receiving recognition for their universal appeal. Theodore and Beck certainly are familiar with them, and they recharge the songs with knowing charm, gentle wit and appropriate ruefulness. Still, they remain faithful to their own styles, instead of imitating Lee and Barbour paying tribute while still interpreting. That is, Beck’s widely admired work on the alto guitar, with its sustained tone and two bass strings, is evident from the first track’s declarative notes. Those low notes allow Beck to double as "bassist" and guitarist on "Take a Little Time to Smile" as he alternates the throbbing low-pitched vamp with the more uplifting upper-register chords. Theodore is in sync with Beck’s choices of pitch, rising from the lower depths of her alto range in the introduction to a coquettish mid-range presentation of the optimistic thought (which seems discrepant with Lee’s later sultry, impassive image).

Of course, the song most broadly associated with Peggy Lee is her maga-hit "Fever," and of course Theodore and Beck put their own stamp on it. Beck sets up the back beat and a chiming accompaniment, and Theodore concludes some of her phrases on major ninths in an energized fashion.

But still, part of Golden Earrings’ value is its bringing attention to the breadth and humor of Lee’s songs, from "Why Don’t You Do Right?" revamped so to speak, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to the grammatically incorrect "You Was Right Baby." Some of Lee’s songs, re-created with verve by Theodore and Beck, suggest circumstances of her generation, like "Everything Is Moving Too Fast," although once again that opinion may be considered true. Or that thought may have become an eternal truth, in this case allowing Theodore to have fun with the words and sentiment.

The most memorable moments on Golden Earrings are those that feature the uniqueness of Theodore’s and Beck’s own musical strengths, such as the breathy rubato wordless introduction to "Don’t Smoke in Bed." Or there is Beck’s emotionally performed, flamenco-derived ringing accompaniment to "Johnny Guitar," aptly sequenced as the first track of the album. Theodore’s entreaty to the guitarist through the words of "Johnny Guitar" suggests their musical bond and the loss to us all after Beck’s passing in 2008.

Don Williamson

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe Beck & Laura Theodore
  • CD Title: Golden Earrings
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Whaling City Sound
  • Tracks: Each song is a winner.
  • Musicians: Joe Beck (guitars) and Laura Theodore (vocals). Features songs that are jazz gems, each selection worthy of radio play time and highly enjoyable.
  • Rating: Four Stars
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