One of the most interesting newcomers on the American scene, Arizona-bred Kathleen Grace made her recording debut just two years ago, with the impressive Sunrise. Now, with a new band comprised of pianist Matt Politano, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy, drummer Andrew Fockel, percussionist Bobby Wilmore and, most notably, guitarist Perry Smith, Grace kicks it up a notch with this wide-ranging assortment of covers and originals that amplify her genre-blurring dexterity. Hers is a crisp, cool sort of Jo Stafford-meets-Jane Monheit vibe that’s as well suited to a sparkling, sun-dappled spin through “I’ll Be Seeing You” as it is to the gently countrified, rigors-of-the-road lament “I Return to You,” featuring Grace’s lyric fitted to Pat Metheny’s “Travels.”
Equally intriguing are her “Sunrise, Sunset,” shot through with a vague hint of sinister mystery, and a “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” that’s at once as bouncy as an Oklahoma back road and as sleekly propulsive as a racing bike. Like its predecessor, Songbird (named for an original Grace-Smith composition that is Joni Mitchell good) was self-produced, suggesting limited distribution and inadequate attention from jazz-oriented radio. Too bad: The airwaves should be full of Grace.