The numerous pop and rock stars from the 1970s and ’80s who have dallied with the Great American Songbook tend to fall into one of two camps. There are the poseurs who have little appreciation for the music or its heritage and alter their vocal style nary an inch. Then there are those, like Boz Scaggs, who reveal deep understanding, heading down a fresh career path as gifted interpreters. An unexpected new addition to the latter list is Gloria Estefan.
The Latin-pop and crossover megastar hinted at her comfort with such material two decades ago when, recruited for Sinatra’s first Duets album, she helped shape an impressive “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Now Estefan really gets down to business. Sounding remarkably like Diana Krall, though with significantly more vibrato, she navigates 11 sturdy standards with laidback ease, rounding out the Tin Pan Alley playlist with a slow-burning treatment of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Eu Sei Que Vou te Amar” (featuring Ed Calle on tenor sax) and an English-language version of the Carlos Gardel classic “El Día Que Me Quieras” accented by a violin solo from Joshua Bell.
Stunning as Estefan’s vocals are, equal credit is due the album’s producers, her husband, Emilio, and pianist Shelly Berg (who also anchors the rhythm section). Many a similar project has been derailed by overproduction, the singer drowned in a tidal wave of strings and horns. Here, atop arrangements that are the epitome of restrained elegance, Estefan remains the sterling centerpiece.