Over the past few years I have fallen hard for vocal jazz. Women with interesting voices who sing standards, or even better, odd quirky tunes I’ve never heard, hook me everytime. Blossom Dearie is all that and more, and where better to start with this gem of a songstress than her first full length Self Titled release.
Until recently, it was quite difficult, or at least pricey, to land a copy of 1957’s Blossom Dearie, but thanks to the Verve By Request Series, 2023 saw a long overdue worldwide reissue pressed by Third Man Records at their Detroit plant. The series is brilliant (not as rare, but their Eartha Kitt reissue, Bad But Beautiful also deserves your attention) and Third Man did an excellent job with this release in particular. The sound quality is excellent. Blossom’s vocals and piano work are crisp, and if you were not already in love with her, you will be.
Speaking of the piano playing on this album, that’s Ms. Dearie as well. That’s right, she not only has a sweet-and-smooth-as-honey voice, she’s an accomplished jazz pianist as well. The bluesy riff on “Lover Man” blend effortlessly with the longing vocals and bright guitar trills. (Gotta give a hand to Herb Ellis on guitar here as well, exceptional work.) On “Thou Swell” the piano backbone just exudes the same joy the lyrics speak.
The song selection on this album is superb. All of course suit Blossom’s voice, but one aspect I really enjoy about this genre is digging into the composers and their lesser vs. more widely known work. There is the bonafide standard “I Won’t Dance,” with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, which many folks know as a Fred Astaire hit. While I do love Fred Astaire, I consider this flirty version by Blossom much more fun. She takes the well known “It Might As Well be Spring” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wonderful but less than popular State Fair and turns the dreamy ballad into an even moodier melancholy musing sung entirely in French. Then there’s the Rodgers and Hart tune “Everything I’ve Got,” which is just the sort of song that could have been written just for Blossom. It’s sassy, playful, sharp-as-nails, and not at all what you’d expect from the title.
I should also note that if you find Blossom’s voice to be familiar in some vague nostalgic way you probably consumed your fair share of Schoolhouse Rock! as a youngin’. Her voice featured prominently on the classic “Figure Eight,” my personal favorite, “Unpack Your Adjectives,” and many others. She is often said to have a childlike voice, but I don’t find that a bit reductive; it may be high pitched and pure, but it’s powerful as can be, and of course very unique.
My favorite thing about Blossom Dearie is that it’s such a cheerful listen. Even the downtempo laments carry such a zest one can’t help but smile. When I put on this record I’m magically transported to a metropolitan supper club of yesteryear where Ms. Dearie is at the piano delivering a song like a good joke. I hope to see you there.