Aged to perfection—such is Barbara Cook. The doyenne of New York cabaret has, at 83, never sounded more appealing than she does across this 15-track set almost entirely arranged and orchestrated by Ted Rosenthal. The lyric soprano that propelled Cook to major Broadway stardom decades ago has lost its crystalline purity and, in the process, become far more interesting, intimate and inviting. Though Cook often performs with larger ensembles, here she wisely opts for small-group coziness: just Rosenthal at the piano and Jay Leonhart on bass, plus percussionist Warren Odze and woodwinds player Lawrence Feldman.
It goes without saying that the theatrically trained Cook is an outstanding storyteller, among the few who can be considered the equal of Mabel Mercer. It’s a skill that serves her well when interpreting timeworn standards, effortlessly hitting the emotional bull’s-eye of “More Than You Know,” “When Sunny Gets Blue,” the too-rarely recorded “If I Love Again” and the title track. Her narrative gift proves just as affecting across such jauntier numbers as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Makin’ Whoopee.”
Nor does Cook allow herself to be limited by Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. Her reading of Dan Hicks’ “I Don’t Want Love,” a breezy list song worthy of Bobby Troup, is a playful delight, and her stark reading of “The House of the Rising Sun,” sung a cappella until Rosenthal tiptoes in with “Bye Bye Blackbird,” is a masterpiece of bruised deliberation.