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July/August 2002

Curtis Stigers
Secret Heart
Concord Records

As the pool of credible male vocalists grows ever shallower, it's reassuring to know that Curtis Stigers has decided to swap pop stardom for the relative anonymity of life as a jazz singer. Stigers' bravura Secret Heart (Concord) is proof positive that this guy is ready to join the ranks of Kurt Elling and Mark Murphy. Casual listeners are likely to mistake Stigers for John Pizzarelli. There is, however, an added depth and maturity that distinguishes Stigers' singing. To my ear, he sounds like a potent blend of Sting and Jimmy Scott. The results are stunning. Playing it for laughs off the top, Stigers opens with "How Could a Man Take Such a Fall," a splendid self-parody that cleverly catalogs his tumble from flavor-of-the-week grace. The other Stigers original included here, "Swingin' Down at 10th & Main," is a joyful, bouncy paean to his hometown of Boise, Idaho. (For the record, both originals also feature some dandy tenor sax work by the man himself). Stigers has a hoot of a time with Steve Earle's "Hometown Blues" and really goes to town on "You're Driving Me Crazy" and "Down With Love." He's equally at home with heartbreak, serving up a version of Randy Newman's "It's So Hard Living Without You" that's appropriately melancholy but never slops over into maudlin sentimentality, then wrings every ounce of regret from Mercer and Mancini's eminently sorrowful "Days of Wine and Roses." As for the ballads, suffice it to say that gems like "My Foolish Heart" and "Body and Soul" are rarely handled with such velvety tenderness.

Originally published in July/August 2002
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