If voices, like wines, had noses, Curtis Stigers’ would be dusky oak with hints of Willie Nelson, Harry Nilsson, Ray Charles and Matt Dennis. It’s a voice that’s at once young and old, tender and tough, warm and inviting as a caress, yet sturdy as a firm handshake. Here, as always, Stigers works in tandem with keyboardist, accordionist, vibraphonist, arranger and co-producer Larry Goldings, a partnership that remains as musically rewarding as that between Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood.
Stigers’ penchant for Randy Newman gems, begun in 2001 with “Marie” on Baby Plays Around, continued the following year with “It’s So Hard Living Without You” (on Secret Heart) and further explored two years ago with the title track from I Think It’s Going to Rain Today, proceeds here with a stunningly spare (Stigers backed solely by Goldings) “Real Emotional Girl.” The pair proves equally captivating on a hauntingly fog-bound reading of Paul Simon’s “American Tune” and a bluesy wade through Emmylou Harris’ “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now.” As on his previous disc, which included a superb, slow-thawing “Don’t Think Twice,” Stigers dips into the Dylan songbook, coming up with a mink-lined “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (one of five tracks featuring the incomparable John Pizzarelli on guitar). It is, in its seductively sophisticated way, as appealing as Dylan’s more pastoral original.
The delights continue with Stephin Merritt’s clever “As You Turn to Go” (a sanguine adieu tune on par with “Thanks for the Memory”), Mose Allison’s brilliantly biting “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” a breezily lissome “Stardust” and Stigers’ own “I Only Want to Be With You” (co-written with his brother, Jake), a homesick lament that is, both structurally and thematically, surprisingly similar to Michael Bublé’s recent “Home.” It’s all vintage Stigers.