By Gillian G. Gaar
Eartha Kitt, "The Essential Eartha Kitt"
RCA/Legacy (88597 83419 2)
Eartha Kitt is not a “background music” kind of artist; her songs demand to be listened to, because they’re so lyrically clever. This collection draws on Kitt’s 1950s catalogue, including the song she’s probably best known for, “Santa Baby,” but there are plenty of others that are just as seductive and fun.
“C’est si bon” (a Top 10 hit from 1953) is trademark Kitt; sung in sophisticated French, with a few English words dropped in as a tease (e.g. “millionaire,” and “Cadillac car”). Nor is it a surprise to hear her purring her way through “My Heart Belongs To Daddy.”
But the songs also have a good dose of humor; Kitt’s idea of being bad in “I Want To Be Evil” has her declaring “I want to … cheat at jacks!” “The Heel” is a fraught rant about an unfaithful lover that Kitt decides to stick by anyway, concluding with the startling metaphor “I’ll let him have his little flings/I’ll be the chewing gum that clings … to the heel!” then bursting into maniacal laughter.
Her voice isn’t quite as enjoyable on the “straight” numbers. The quaver in her voice during “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is off-putting, and while performances from the film “St. Louis Blues” are fine, they’re not as much fun as a slice of kitsch like “Honolulu Rock and Roll.” But with 40 songs to choose from on this set, there’s enough here for every taste.