Keely Smith ‘The Intimate Keely Smith’ (Real Gone) 4/5

Singer Keely Smith is possibly better known for her collaborations with Louis Prima, but was in fact a fine vocalist in her own right and this intimate date from 1964 provides all the evidence required to back that assertion up. Influenced by Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day and even Julie London, Smith reached the height of her popularity in the late 1950s recording albums for Capitol with larger orchestrations under the majestic arrangements of Billy May and Nelson Riddle, and it was quite probably these collaborations that attracted the attention of one Frank Sinatra to his then fledgling Reprise label on which this album was recorded. However, in comparison to the uptempo outings with Prima, here the temperature is taken down a notch or two with the fine accompaniment of just a quintet including bassist Red Mitchell, Irv Cottler on drums and Jeff Lewis and Ernie Freeman alternating on piano, plus unlisted guitarist. The repertoire comprises the great American songbook and the breathy delivery that was a Keely Smith trademark is ideally suited to this material, no better illustrated than on, ‘He needs me’. The mood, then, is deeply melancholic and nostalgic, with a gently moving, ‘Time after time’, featuring some judicious guitar licks. At times, Smith enters into Julie London territory as on, ‘Blame it on my youth’, and on the Lionel Bart composition, ‘As long as he needs me’. Seven pages of informative notes and the original studio recording details outlined inside the jewel box are included for that extra touch of authenticity. Mark this down as an album for those long winter evenings. An underrated singer who deserves more than a cursory note in books on jazz singing.

Tim Stenhouse