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July/August 2005

Sara Lazarus
Give Me the Simple Life
Dreyfus Records

What a shame when, through no fault of the performer, a gifted singer's recording debut is spoiled. Such is, by and large, the case with Delaware-born expatriate Sara Lazarus, winner of a 1994 vocalist award at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition who, having spent most of her adult life in Europe with her French saxophonist husband Eric Breton, finally makes her first stateside appearance on disc with the Paris-recorded Give Me the Simple Life.

Lazarus boasts a full, round voice strikingly similar to that of another talented expat, U.K.-based Stacey Kent. Trouble is, Lazarus' sublimity is too often buried beneath overly robust arrangements. (No arranger credit is evident in the liner notes or press materials, so the arrangements may possibly be Lazarus' own, in which case she has only herself to blame.) On the likes of "It's Crazy," "Get Out of Town," "This Can't Be Love" and the title track, Lazarus strains to crawl above her accompanists, too often resulting in a discordant shrillness. But when the background heat is reduced to a simmer, as on "Once Upon a Summertime, "He Was Too Good to Me" and a marvelous "Smile" featuring gypsy guitar virtuoso Bireli Lagrene, Lazarus' rich flavor shines through, clearly suggesting that with the right material she could easily attain Kent-sized success.

Originally published in July/August 2005
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