Under the direction and orchestration of Reg Owens, Della Reese recorded her fifth long-player for the Big Apple-based Jubilee label. Although the artist's background was deeply rooted in the gospel tradition, she was among the incipient female vocalists to have been able to maneuver deftly into the secular genre. What Do You Know About Love? (1959) contains a dozen torch-type ballads and standards from the Great American Songbook as well as the Mort Goode/Walter Scharf-penned title composition, which just so happens to commence the affair. The syrupy-sweet strings swell as they herald Reese's singular leads. Her sense of rhythmic precision, exacting diction, and even-keeled nature flies in the face of the foreboding and portent that are swathed in what comes off as an acerbic tone. "When I Fall in Love" is a gorgeous reminder of the heartfelt and empathetic side of Reese that is at times eclipsed if not overwhelmed by her animated nature. She unfurls each line with a passion that never comes to a boil, but rather is left to simmer just below the surface. To a similar degree, Reese draws the listener into her retelling of "Something I Dreamed Last Night," not to mention the gentle, demure yearning on the Duke Ellington classic "I Got It Bad." A decidedly strident feel empowers the Gus Kahn co-written "I'll Never Be the Same," which provides an interesting change from the typical "woe is me"-imbued renditions that many of her contemporaries could pull off so easily. "You Better Go Now" -- one of the least pretentious of Owens' scores -- gives Reese a chance to interject a bit more of herself than on the majority of the project. The slightly sassy unveiling of lines such as "...I like ya much too much, you have a way with you" is irresistible.
One criticism that can be leveled is a lack of selections that allow Reese's personality to rise -- at least not to a great extent. To wit, "Nobody's Baby" is rather somber, although she continuously proves that she can sell the "heart on the sleeve" approach heard here. Considerably better are the bluesy intonations of "I Never Knew." Seeming less tied down to the arrangement, she interjects a few off-the-cuff improvisations that likewise lend a personable quality to the interpretation. Not to be missed is the stirring "I Thought of You." The dramatic ability that Reese brings to the number arguably bests the vast majority of the earlier and comparatively popular versions. Another attitude-charged performance fuels "You Don't Know What Love Is" as she seethes with a vacillating temperament of empathy and derision -- a fine line that few can pull off so adeptly. As they had done with "I'll Never Be the Same," Owens and Reese delve once again into the Gus Kahn/Matt Melneck repertoire for the sensitive "I'm Thru with Love," which finds the singer at what is surely her most relaxed, as even her pacing feels less rigid. Suitably, "That's All There Is" concludes What Do You Know About Love? with the singer's expected persona intact (if not somewhat emotionally distant), a trait that would keep audiences coming back for more. In 2008, Collectors' Choice Music coupled this platter with the sacred outing Amen! -- making both available for the first time in decades. ~ Lindsay Planer