Bittersweet is an appropriate name for this collection of ballads by Carmen McRae. Unlike most ballad albums, however, this 1964 recording more than holds one’s attention throughout. In my opinion Carmen’s best album, the song choice is amazing, and includes one of the most important recordings of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”.
Most of the arrangements were supplied by underrated pianist (and superb accompanist) Norman Simmons, but to whom we can attribute the set list I am unsure. McRae not only resurrects rarities such as “How Did He Look” and “I’m Lost”, but adds a new flame to classics such as “When Sunny Get’s Blue” and “Here’s That Rainy Day”.
Guitarist Mundell Lowe, who was apparently a last-minute replacement on this album, makes one of the best performances of his career here, matching the tasteful accompanying style of Simmons and complementing McRae’s classic delivery perfectly. Here is what Ken Dryden of Allmusic says:
“Carmen McRae made many worthwhile albums during her long career, but this session of mostly melancholy ballads never received the exposure it deserved, possibly because it was done for Mort Fega’s small independent label, Focus. But the singer, who is in top form throughout the date, responds beautifully to pianist Norman Simmons’ well-crafted charts; the rest of the cast includes drummer Curtis Boyd; bassist Victor Sproles; and a last minute but valuable substitute, guitarist Mundell Lowe. Her dramatic lagging behind the beat in “The Meaning of the Blues” adds to its appeal. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” is the only extended piece and was already a regular part of her repertoire by the time of this recording, so her effortless take is no surprise. McRae was an excellent pianist and accompanies herself on the defiant “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life.” Duke Ellington’s meditative “Come Sunday” provides a ray of hope among the otherwise bittersweet songs on this CD. Fortunately, Koch had the wisdom to reissue this lost treasure, and it easily ranks among Carmen McRae’s best recordings.”