She is the Town & Country of jazz vocalists-a blue-blooded thoroughbred whose tastefully manicured delivery is a study in stylish conservatism. She's Lee Wiley without the irony; Julie London minus the come-hither playfulness. Which is not to suggest that Monica Mancini lacks talent or ingenuity. Her soft, round voice, pure as a snowy Vermont Sunday yet sandy as a sinful Caribbean paradise, provides an ideal showcase for the soft, round ballads she favors.
On Cinema Paradiso, backed by a lot of lush strings, Mancini wades into an intriguing olio of movie themes, extending from Ennio Morricone's toweringly romantic title track to the trembling wistfulness of "Over the Rainbow." Along the way, Mancini serves up a few surprises, including a dreamy interpretation of Dumbo's "Baby Mine" and a reading of "Alfie" that is, refreshingly, more inquisitive than accusatory. She also, unwittingly, explores both the best and the worst of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, luxuriating in the velvety folds of "The Summer Knows" then wrestling with the sugary clumsiness of "I'll Never Say Goodbye."
Through it all, Cinema Paradiso remains cocktail music for sophisticated suburbanites: exquisitely appointed, impeccably performed and archly intelligent, yet subdued enough to be nonthreatening.