Curtis Stigers knows what makes a great song -- whether he's borrowing from the Great American Songbook, the world of rock, or writing it himself. So it's not too surprising to find a Pink Floyd tune ("Vera") on the same record as Rodgers & Hart ("My Funny Valentine"), or Ron Sexsmith ("Reason for Love") sharing space with John Lennon ("Jealous Guy"). But what matters most is not only Stigers' good pair of ears but his gift for customizing these songs so incisively that they sound utterly at home with one another, and with the quartet of tunes Stigers co-wrote himself for Lost in Dreams, his tenth release. Stigers' voice has a lived-in quality that exudes trust and knowing: his album-closing take on the standard "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" is a quiet, nearly naked affair to which Stigers brings the kind of authority and nuance usually found in a much more seasoned stylist such as Tony Bennett. Buddy & Julie Miller's "Dirty Water" is a finger-snapping classic blues. "Bye Bye Blackbird" becomes a buoyant, frolicking vamp, but Stigers avoids the giddiness that so often finds its way to the song. "Vera," paired with its inspiration, "We'll Meet Again," slides easily from lonely piano-bar meditation to snappy and upbeat while the opener, Annie Lennox's "Cold," is a muscular stone soul picnic, allowing Stigers to take off on fanciful flights while holding onto the grit the song never knew it needed. On the Lennon number, an apologist's plea, Stigers finds the perfect balance between a jazzman's knack for swinging -- his tenor saxophone solo kicks it into high gear toward the end -- and a popmeister's need for accessibility. And as for those originals, they never feel out of their element. The first of them, "You've Got the Fever," co-authored with Tom Jensen, dances a sly, quasi-tango rhythm; the bluesy, Ray Charles-like "Daddy's Coming Home," co-written with album co-producer (with Stigers), John Sneider, leaves no doubt that Daddy can't wait to arrive. "Feels Right," one of two collaborations with former producer Larry Goldings, lives up to its title, and the other, "The Dreams of Yesterday," is reflective and appropriately dreamy. Stigers never needs to overdo it -- he's a sophisticated natural who simply finds the heart of his material and then does it justice. It's a lesson others would do well to learn.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin