Jacqui Naylor’s eighth album is also her most democratic. Prior to the recording sessions, Naylor assembled a group of 90 friends and fans, performed 25 songs, asked her guests to rate each on a 1-5 scale, and included the highest-scoring 15 on Lucky Girl. Continuing along a democratic path, she shares producer credits with all three bandmates: Art Khu (piano, organ, Rhodes, guitars), Jon Evans (basses, percussion, lap steel) and Josh Jones (drums and percussion). As the title suggests, the 15 tracks—six covers, including a stunning treatment of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” and nine originals, all co-written with Khu—tend to be sunny. Even on the melancholy “It Was Supposed to Work Out,” rays of optimism poke through the gloom.
Naylor’s trademark “acoustic smashing”—collisions of jazz standards and rock tunes, with the band playing one while she sings the other—is less prevalent than on previous outings, exercised just once. But it is her finest to date, with “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” floated atop George Benson’s “Breezin’.” With her unique vocal style—full and rich as Diana Krall’s, yet idiosyncratic as Nellie McKay’s and shot-through with a keen folk-rock sensibility—Naylor remains one of the most superbly arresting vocalists around. Her songwriting skills are, as always, equally sublime, extending from the high-stepping pep of the title track and propulsive magnanimity of “Dreamin’ Prayin’ Wishin’” to the fervent sensuality of “Close the Door” and sweet contentment of “Beautiful.”