“I confess my ignorance of jazz singer Helen Merrill — or so it was until a couple of weeks ago, when Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds sent me a test pressing of his forthcoming reissue of her eponymous 1955 debut LP (EmArcy MG 36006/Analogue Productions AAPJ 127). To say I was impressed is an understatement. The album was recorded in December of 1954 by the legendary Bob Fine, at Fine Sound Inc., 711 5th Avenue in New York. Merrill, then only 24, was backed by a combo that included Clifford Brown on trumpet, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and pianist Jimmy Jones, with arrangements by Quincy Jones — himself a mere 21 years old at the time. The mono sound is on the (pleasantly) dry side and very forward, with taut-sounding drums and bass and an intimate vocal sound that at times comes close to being overly sibilant but never quite carries out the threat. Merrill’s intonation isn’t always spot-on (as in the intro to ‘Yesterdays’), but there’s something about her voice — an odd combination of breathy innocence and husky-toned experience that pulls me in time after time. (In ‘Don’t Explain,’ she intones the word quiet in a manner that could launch any number of ships.) And Clifford Brown’s trumpet is, as one might expect, perfect. Prices for the original mono LP reach into four-figure territory, so news of an affordable reissue is very good news indeed. Torch on.” — Art Dudley, Stereophile, March 2020
Helen Merrill attributed her childhood musical influence to her mother’s singing. Truth is, she didn’t wait long herself to make a mark as a teenage jazz ingénue, following-up with the notable self-titled LP you have in your hands, newly remastered, and reissued by Analogue Productions.
Helen Merrill arrives, remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio, and plated and pressed to 200-gram vinyl by the dedicated crew at Quality Record Pressings, supervised by plating expert and general manager Gary Salstrom. No less than an old-style, tip-on Stoughton Printing gatefold jacket would suffice for such a phenomenal-sounding reissue. Rare photographs inside the gatefold originally appeared as sleeve art for the 7-inch singles recorded and released in conjunction with the original 1955 album release.
Helen Merrill was born in New York City on July 21, 1930. Her professional career began at the age of 15 when, after singing at theatres and winning amateur contests, she landed a job as vocalist with Reggie Charles’ Band. Merrill made her recording debut in 1952 when she sang “A Cigarette For Company” with the Earl Hines Band; the song was released on the D’Oro label, created specifically to record Hines’ band with Merrill. The session was also notable for including vocalist Etta Jones, who was in Hines’ band at the time. Merrill was later signed by Mercury Records to their EmArcy label. Helen Merrill is her debut studio album, backed by among others, trumpeter Clifford Brown and bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford. The legendary Quincy Jones produced and arranged the album when he was just 21-years-old!
The success of Helen Merrill prompted Mercury to sign her for an additional four-album contract. AllMusic reviewer Scott Yanow gave Helen Merrill 4 1/2 stars. “The music is essentially straight-ahead bop, yet the seven standards … are uplifted by the presence of Merrill (in top form) and Brown.” Her success associated Merrill with the first generation of bebop jazz musicians.
Merrill’s career continued with recordings and concerts throughout six decades, until the early 2000s. Her emotional, sensual vocal performances, particularly this engaging debut, stand as testament to her immense talent.
This is a high-quality reissue of a rare and valuable record. Original copies have sold for more than $1,000!
1. Don’t Explain
2. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
3. What’s New
4. Falling In Love With Love
2. Born To Be Blue
3. ‘S Wonderful