First recordings by promising jazz vocalists, those who display perfect pitch and the ability to imitate the great stylists and standards of yesteryear, are a dime a dozen. Fine singers, who bring something new to classic material and write their own songs, are rare. A singer in the full of life who showcases these latter talents full throttle on a debut is extraordinary. Massachusetts singer and songwriter Ann Austin is just that. Her first outing, the wonderful Lost in Your Eyes, is an exercise in panache, earthy elegance, and personal style from start to finish. In her clean throaty contralto, she throws notions of detached cool to the wind as she provocatively and originally interprets canon material, vernacular pop songs, and contributes four fine originals. Expressively Austin as a vocalist posses the immediacy and complexity of a Laura Nyro, though her jazz chops are sharp, hip, and marvelous. Austin's voice carries within it an emotional honesty and expressiveness that is refreshing and soulful in its openness. Accompanied by fine quartet led by pianist/arranger/composer John Harrison III, Austin approaches jazz songbook material like "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" with an empathy that is startling. Accompanied only by Harrison, one can hear the grain of her voice, the poetic lyric become a nearly visual paean to the passage of time and youth, a poignant hymn to mortality that carries within it sorrow, reverie, and acceptance. Her reading of Stevie Wonder's "Lately," with Harrison's bossa arrangement and guitarist Paul Good's shimmering tropical vamp, brings out the intricacies in the melody and the sense of panic and loss in the lyric. Mark Pucci's bassline introduces Sonny Burke's "Black Coffee," dressed stylishly in drummer Rusty Russo's high-hat whisper. Austin follows Harrison into the verse and it's all want, all pain, all bewildered, thwarted love; it comes straight from the pit of the belly and aches without apology. The same goes for Jim Doris' "Oh Me Oh My," where the halting grace in the song's verse expresses a kind of need that's unsettling. When she lets that feeling loose, the raw desire that expresses the notion "love has no pride" is pasted Technicolor in the heart of the listener. As evidenced by her version of Rudy Stevenson's "Ain't No Use," and her own "Cha Cha Blues," Austin can also belt the blues with the authority of a Bonnie Raitt. But it's on her self-penned songs such as "Tell Me Not to Love You," the title track, and "I Can't Erase You From My Heart" where the true measure of her poetic talent is felt. Vocally and stylistically she straddles the cracks between jazz and pop like a dancer moving through a crowd on a parquet floor. Her words are economical, never trite, never anything less than painstakingly honest. Austin's sensual instrument comes from the body; it is the voice of experience. Calling her a torch singer is a constraint, because the deep passion for life that comes ringing from these tunes -- all better heard that written about here -- expresses uncommon emotional commitment to the material, yet is utterly free of the artifice. There is no chanteuse/victim on Lost in Your Eyes. This singer willingly owns her stuff in her material and speaks to it through the contributions of other songwriters. Lost in Your Eyes is a singular first effort from an enigmatic, sophisticated talent.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek