Acoustic Sounds

Blossom Dearie

Blossom Dearie



Label: Vinyl Me Please/Verve Records

Lacquers Cut By: Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio

By: Joshua Smith

February 4th, 2023


Jazz Vocal Jazz



Do Not Judge This Blossom By Its Cover

Vinyl Me Please's reissue of Blossom Dearie's debut has crappy enlarged compact disc cover, but sounds great

Malachi, forgive me. Years ago, you complained that a reissue did not have a tip-on jacket, and I thought you were being petty. In fact, I was in the wrong, for not caring enough about such things. I say this while peering at the awful cover Vinyl Me, Please did for Blossom Dearie's debut record, originally released in 1956. In sonic terms it's a splendid treasure of a record, but the cover has to be one of the worst I have ever seen, worse than a bootleg.

I've been wanting to buy this release for years but it was sold out on the VMP website, and cost zany dollars on Discogs. Then last year I found an original pressing at one of the local record stores in Augusta, Georgia. Sixty dollars is near the outer limit for what I would spend on a record I've never heard, but there was something magnificent about the cover that compelled me to buy the sixty-seven year-old album. The Chuck Stewart photograph, with its stunning iconic image of Dearie at the piano intoning her breathy sultry whispery vocals, took hold of my eyes. It was love at first sight:

It was worth the sixty dollars. I loved the record so much I felt I had cheated the record store. A handful of times I have found a record that does the thing I need music to do for a particular kind of moment. This one does the gigantic romantic plea for tenderness thing like no other. Valentine's Day is around the corner, which means in about two weeks I'll be playing the Blossom Dearie self-titled record for my lovely wife. It's a record that never fails.

"Girlish" is the term most commonly used to describe Blossom Dearie's voice, and although "girlish" certainly applies even to her latter-year singing in such songs as the John Lennon tribute "Hey John" or the School House Rocks classic "Unpack Your Adjectives," her singing is different here—her more well-known staccato phrasing replaced with a more drawn out, luxurious style pitched for maximum romantic impact. Not juvenile, but certainly delinquent. Like a '50s version of Kim Deal, Blossom Dearie sings in the Rodgers/Hart song "Everything I've Got", "I've got a powerful anesthesia in my fist/And the perfect wrist to give your neck a twist".

Blossom even finds a deeper, more authoritative register for "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)," a torch song that crackles with textured electricity. Similar thrills are present in the final two songs, "I Won't Dance," and "A Fine Spring Morning," tunes that live in a world in which Dearie has banished everything that is generic and ordinary: in the latter song, she sings about a place where "Bums are getting bummier/Chums are getting chummier/And yummy-looking girls are getting yummier." Accompanying Blossom's very grown-up sounding voice are Herb Ellis's guitar and Ray Brown's bass, but most of all, Blossom Dearie's spare piano, played with a subtlety so artful that it gained the admiration of none other than Bill Evans. John Lennon was also a big fan, and you can hear him sing "Blossom Dearie They Call Me" on YouTube, an outtake from the "Get Back/Let It Be" sessions.

Everything about her self-titled 1956 debut is perfect, and definitely worth the premium for an original or early pressing.

Which is not true of the Vinyl Me, Please reissue. I played my 1957 early pressing back-to-back with the Kevin Gray-mastered reissue on my Rega RP6 with Ania Pro cartridge, and found comparable sound, with the reissue featuring livelier bass without sacrificing the delicacy of Blossom Dearie's voice. Natalie Weiner's impressive liner notes were thoughtfully presented in a pink passport-sized booklet. Almost everything about this release was done with care, except for the cover, which is offensively bad:

Comparing the original's front cover to the reissue's reveals how a crisp and evocative image can be turned into one that is a pixelated nightmare. The estate of Photographer Chuck Stewart should sue UMG Recordings for this blotchy travesty. Even worse, a little detective work on Discogs revealed that Vinyl Me, Please recycled the cover from a late '80s compact disc, which explains why it looks like a bitty little image that has been enlarged with no concern for that image's resolution or composition. A blown-up compact disc cover, lousy with late '80s computer typeface, has no place on heavy, glossy, oh, what a thing to be treasured card stock—it just emphasizes the cheapness of the product, like those joke t-shirts with black tie and boutonniere illustrations.

I recommend the pressing (completely flat), the service (the packing and delivery were flawless and speedy), and the mastering (Kevin Gray), but I find the cover to be offensively bad, almost bewildering, as if Vinyl Me, Please doesn't really understand jazz fans, who treasure magnificent cover art and photography exactly as much, and sometimes more, than the music inside. A record as lovely and charming as this deserves better than a cover that evokes loathing not love at first sight.

Post-script: A quick check on the Third Man Records' website revealed Jack White will be releasing Blossom Dearie's self-titled debut album as part of Third Man's "Verve by Request" re-issue series. One web site posted a March 10, 2023 release date. Let's hope Third Man does a better job with the sound than its recent James Brown re-issue, and better work with the cover art than Vinyl Me Please's bootleg-quality cover of this distinctive, memorable, and lovely statement from Blossom Dearie.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: Vinyl Me Please Classics-C020

Pressing Plant: GZ Media

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Mono

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-02-05 04:12:00 AM

    Steve wrote:

    Reviewing the reviewer: A disproportionate and rather trite segment of this review (15 sentences) is spent describing to the reader just how bad the album cover looks. The accompanying image of the cover would suffice for those of us who base our purchase decisions on the esthetics of record covers (Few do, I presume). This is a shame because you could have better used the space (approximately 200 words) to further discuss the music and performance of a seminal 1950s female vocal album or perhaps you simply leave out the grousing and make the review more succinct.

    • 2023-02-06 05:15:49 PM

      Joshua Smith wrote:

      As I point out to Malachi, it really exploded my brain when I discovered that Vinyl Me, Please, which is about the material pleasures of record collecting, would use a cover from a compact disc. In regards to your claim about record collectors not caring about the aesthetics of album covers, I'm glad everybody from Blue Note Records to the Beatles and Nirvana have/had a different view!

      • 2023-02-07 02:14:00 AM

        Steve wrote:

        The Dearie album cover may or may not have deserved a critical comment - just saying, that to improve your review, one sentence would have sufficed. Interesting that you discovered that a digital medium was sourced for the cover but were not aware of the much more critical (to most of your readers) digital souce of the actual record you were reviewing. On album covers impacting sales ... Interestingly the Beatles plain Jane "White Album" was, of the 13 original albums released in the UK, their 3rd best selling album.

        Most Blue Note albums were based on Francis Wolf's session photos which graphic designer Reid Miles designed around. Definitely higher quality than the Dearie cover shot, but based on the same popular concept of "artists at play" on covers. The comment of Silk Dome below addresses the value of that notion. BTW - Back in the 1950s and 60s many record distributors hated BN covers because they felt that the cover art held BACK sales. They wanted "hot" women on the covers. Not trying to trash the review. But the standards at the old AP and here are very high.

  • 2023-02-05 06:56:15 AM

    Malachi Lui wrote:

    regarding your first comment there, i forgive you! at this point i only complain about the lack of a tip-on jacket if the record is really expensive and it feels like the label cheaped out on the packaging. but graphic quality is usually more important, and despite their usual high quality i guess VMP didn't get this one right...

    • 2023-02-06 04:57:07 PM

      Joshua Smith wrote:

      Thanks Malachi-- it was really mind-blowing to scroll through discogs and discovering that cover for a late '80s compact disc was identical to this artisanal, glossy premium release from Vinyl Me, Please. That realization I think was the main inspiration for this piece, just the irony of getting a compact disc cover from a company that celebrates vinyl. Anyway, want to say what a honor it is to be writing for same site as writers as insightful as you and Michael Fremer, not to mention the other great Tracking Angle contributors!!

  • 2023-02-05 07:35:31 AM

    IPS wrote:

    VMP has confirmed that this reissue was not from AAA mastering, a fact I'm surprised the reviewer didn't mention (or doesn't consider important). Like him, I was also excited to find this title on a nice, new, and fairly quiet vinyl remaster by Kevin Gray. And although it sounds fine, generally speaking, on my system it falls quite short (by comparison to a good Verve original) in ways digital remasters sometimes do: a slightly hard and artificial tonality that's most obvious in the place you want it least--Blossom Dearie's voice. The lack of breathiness, warmth, subtlety, and complexity, all of which I find central to her charm, is disappointing and obvious, once you compare it to the real thing. Still, it's always good to have a decent version available again on vinyl. But 9 out of 10 for sound?

    • 2023-02-06 05:08:06 PM

      Joshua Smith wrote:

      The first time I played the re-issue back to back with my 1957 early pressing (the original is from 1956), I found the two pressings to be pretty similar. Upon further listenings, I did notice the reissue lacked some of the earlier's release's "specialness," but had enough presence and liveliness, especially in the voice and piano, to warrant a very high score. I think as my listening skills and system improves, I will be able to discern (and describe) some sonic attributes that are currently beyond me! But I think your assessment is valid and well-put!

  • 2023-02-05 10:53:51 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    I like the cover photo. Always have. The reissue may be a bad reproduction, but it shows her personality.

    • 2023-02-06 05:19:25 PM

      Joshua Smith wrote:

      I agree, it does give you the gist. Neil Young once said that compact discs also give the listener the gist of what the music is all about, but only a fraction of the recording's entire beauty.

  • 2023-02-09 01:40:12 AM

    Anthony J Russo wrote:

    Seen this lp in the bins of the Brooklyn Record Exchange . Going to pick it up .