As the "Is-you-is-or-is-you-ain't-a-jazz-singer?" debate deepens around Diana Krall and Jane Monheit, count on Stacey Kent to become the next victim. Well on her way to divadom in England, the all-American Kent is poised to become the next big thing on this side of the Atlantic with this, her fourth album. Sticking exclusively to familiar standards, and remaining steadfastly loyal to every word, she insists, in interview after interview, that she wants to be regarded as simply a keen interpreter of the Great American Songbook. To that end, she succeeds.
Reminiscent of Doris Day, Kent boasts the same superb enunciation and a similar ability to sell a lyric without a breaking a sweat. Listening to Dreamsville, I was, however, struck with a nagging feeling of deja vu. I knew I'd heard that voice before. First, I detected a hint of Ginger Rogers in her phrasing-not surprising considering that Kent was weaned on Fred Astaire musicals. Then, somewhere around track eight or nine, it finally hit me: Stacey Kent sounds exactly like Joanie Sommers. Sommers, whose all-to-brief career ended before Kent was born, is best remembered as the sparkly, early '60s jingler for Pepsi-Cola and the teen fave who hit pay dirt with "Johnny Get Angry," her sappy paean to high school he-men. But Sommers also tried, with limited success, to follow the crossover path paved by Bobby Darin. Trouble was, for all her fundamental skill she made everything sound the same. Kent, too, has a tendency toward monotony. It's hard, for instance, to detect much difference in cadence or emotion between "I've Got a Crush on You," "Isn't It a Pity?" or "When Your Lover Has Gone." Occasionally, though, she rises above par and, in doing so, proves herself a quick study. Her "Under a Blanket of Blue" is terrific, but isn't hers. It's Anita O'Day's. Her "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" comes complete with most of Sassy's shadings.
Still, any singer who can echo the best qualities of Day, O'Day and Vaughan or, for that matter, Rogers and Sommers, deserves attention. And attention she'll get. She'll never be a threat to the legacies of Ella or Carmen, but there's nothing too shabby about being the next Doris.