Although the first installment of the Cilla Black reissue campaign was a mixed affair, the second set is a much more satisfying collection, both albums capturing Ms. Black during two distinctively different eras of pop music–– the late 1960s and the mid 1970s. That she was able to adeptly adapt to both time periods shows just how versatile a musician she was, and this twofer is quite essential.
The first album of the set, 1969’s Surround Yourself With Cilla, was her fourth album and her final for the decade that made her famous. Working with longtime producer George Martin, she ably tackled a dozen songs, including her interpretation of a handful of soon to be classic songs including “Aquarius,” Nilsson’s pop confection “Without Him,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic, “You’ll Never Get To Heaven If You Break My Heart, and Paul Simon’s hit for The Cyrkle, “Red Rubber Ball.” The title track was a modest hit, as was the album, although by this time she was more regarded as a television personality. This deluxe edition includes most of the original album in mono, as well as outtakes of the title track and an Italian version of it as well.
The second album of the set, 1976’s It Makes Me Feel Good, was her ninth album, and it was her first album recorded in America. It is a cool, laid-back affair that feels very much like a pop record recorded in Los Angeles circa 1976; an album that splits the difference between cool jazz and a little more funky R&B–influenced style. (Having Lee Ritenour on guitar and Herbie Flowers on bass didn’t hurt, either.) Though the material tends to veer away from familiar pop songs, she does offer a fine cover of Buddy Holly’s ”Heartbeat,” and Phil Spector’s beloved ”To Know Him Is To Love Him,” and though they are good, they feel out of place on a record that is more contemporary in sound and production. She gets funky on ”September love affair,” while her cover of a more obscure Holland/Dozier/Holland number, “something about you,” sounds absolutely ready for the disco. The title track is a jaunty little Warren Zevon-style affair, while “Lay It All Down” and “One Step From Your Arms” recall Elton John. The bonus tracks are equally rewarding, with an exclusively-released American single, “Fantasy,” the theme song to her BBC show Cilla,”It’s Now,” and a fine rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “I believe (when I fall in love it will be forever)” that was amazingly regulated to a b-side. Unfortunately, much like her other album in this set, It Makes Me Feel Good was only a moderate success thanks in part to her television career.
Cilla Black was a consummate performer who possessed the ability to excellently interpret a wide range of musical styles. This particular set wonderfully collects two of her finer efforts from her 50 year career, and serves as a fine introduction to one of England’s true national treasures.