It would, after 19 previous albums and two Grammy awards, be presumptuous to suggest that Diane Schuur has finally found her niche. Still, there’s no denying that this 10-track collection of classic country tunes, each wrapped in an understated jazz arrangement, represents Schuur at her absolute best. The Gathering finds the 57-year-old singer at her most subdued, eschewing the pyrotechnics that have defined much of her earlier work in favor of a softer, stripped-down style that, emphasizing her voice’s natural beauty, is ideally suited to the material. The power and range are still there: Look no further than the sustained note that closes “Why Can’t He Be You” to appreciate that Schuur has lost none of her vocal might. But she clearly appreciates that too much flashy grandstanding would compromise the fragility of such ache-fueled gems as “Am I That Easy to Forget,” “Nobody Wins,” “Healing Hands of Time” and “Til I Can Make It on My Own.”
Notable guests enhance various tracks, including Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, ace guitarists Mark Knopfler and Larry Carlton and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. But, like Schuur, all are disinterested in personal showmanship, concerned only with the integral allure of these bruised pieces. “Today I Started Loving You Again,” arguably the standout among a stellar assortment of covers, provides an ideal case in point, with Carlton’s searing intro and Gill’s temperate vocal accompaniment essential to the track’s stunning holism.