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January/February 2003

Keely Smith
Keely Swings Basie-style
Concord Records

Keely Smith is 70. She sounds half that. On Keely Swings Basie-Style (Concord), her sizzling follow-up to the robust Keely Sings Sinatra, it's tough to tell this Keely from the one who was the toast of Vegas some four or five decades ago. Sure she's a tone duskier and there's some wear and tear around the edges, but so little as to be almost indiscernible. Either the woman's found the fountain of vocal youth or she's been practicing a lot more of that old black magic than we figured.

Serving as her own executive producer, Smith invokes the boisterous spirit of her longtime pal Count Basie on 16 sturdy standards that extend from a silk-lined "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe" to a blistering "Cherokee." That bracingly insouciant phrasing is deliciously intact (only Smith, who's never used "ing" when "in" will do, could get away with singing "hontin" for "haunting" or "hoart" for "heart"), as is her ability to soar where others merely flutter. It has always been hard to discern if Smith is a vaudevillian with a jazz singer's sensibility or a jazz singer with a well-nurtured panache for showmanship. Either way, she remains a singular treasure.

Originally published in January/February 2003
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