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For Once In My Life

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Album Review

In the late '60s Carmen McRae signed up with Atlantic Records and turned the creative reins over to producer Joel Dorn for 1967's For Once in My Life. The record is made up mostly of contemporary songs by Bacharach/David, Brian Wilson, the Beatles, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and at first glance one might think that the record is just a callow attempt to jump on the pop bandwagon. One would be wrong because the record is a success whatever the intentions. McRae's voice is not as sweet as it once was but she is as incredible an interpreter of songs as ever. With Dorn mostly providing restrained and sometimes groovy backings, she turns in some wonderful performances. The two Beach Boys songs are heartbreaking; "Don't Talk" is one of the better covers of a Wilson song you are liable to hear. "Come Live With Me" is a swinging number that sounds like something Sammy Davis, Jr. would have torn up around this time. Leiber & Stoller's "Flying" is another light and smooth that works very well. The only song that falls flat is the Vegas-style take on the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life," where Dorn lays on the glitz and Carmen sounds lost. While there isn't a whole lot of jazz to be found here, fans of McRae shouldn't be scared off by the songs or the era as this is actually one of the better albums she recorded in the second half of her career. [The album was reissued as part of a two-disc set (The Art of Carmen McRae/For Once in My Life) with a collection of McRae's Atlantic-era recordings making up the other disc.]


Born: April 8, 1920 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Carmen McRae always had a nice voice (if not on the impossible level of an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan) but it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretations of lyrics that made her most memorable. She studied piano early on and had her first important job singing with Benny Carter's big band (1944), but it would be another decade before her career had really gained much momentum. McRae married and divorced Kenny Clarke in the '40s, worked with Count Basie (briefly) and Mercer Ellington...
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For Once In My Life, Carmen McRae
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