Various Artists

Lady Sings the Blues [Capitol]

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No doubt influenced by the blockbuster commercial success of Norah Jones during 2002 (and her subsequent Grammy knockout in 2003), Capitol trawled through its considerable vaults to put together a two-disc collection of downbeat vocal jazz by females. Though it lacks an elegant booklet (with a Will Friedwald liner-note essay, perhaps?), everything else about Lady Sings the Blues is impressive. Concentrating on the '50s and '60s, though it includes much contemporary material as well (including Jones), the collection does make a few concessions to its intended market -- those seeking music similar to Norah Jones or Diana Krall -- but presents new and old with a sure sense of proper compiling and transition. Fortunately, not every inclusion is, in fact, a "blues"; the air could've become nearly suicidal over the course of nearly two hours. Instead, Lady Sings the Blues is occasionally broken up into mini-sets of love songs with the same solitary, late-night atmosphere: "You Go to My Head" by Keely Smith, "The Very Thought of You" by Nancy Wilson, "My Funny Valentine" by Dinah Shore, "It Had to Be You" by Kay Starr. Kudos also go to the compilers for their inclusion of vocalists who lack the artistic caché of a Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald; Shore, Starr, and Rosemary Clooney may be known better to cultural historians for their pop material, but they were all excellent in jazz modes, as they're captured here. Lacking any definitive performances, Lady Sings the Blues can't qualify as a first-purchase or a best-of-genre, but it is stunning in its own way, elegantly capturing standards and singers much better than they've been captured in the past.

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