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Babbie Mason: Timeless

Grading the great girl singers is a feckless exercise. The comparative worth of Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Sarah Vaughan and such must always remain in the ear of the listener. That said, I confess that the late Peggy Lee tops my personal hierarchy. Sexy, stylish and sincere, North Dakota’s leggy Ms. Egstrom suffered no fools and stuck to her guns. For my money, though, what really separated Lee from the pack was how she succeeded as both songwriter and songbird. Within jazz circles, such bona fide hyphenates are few. Johnny Mercer and Mel Torme could do it, as can Mark Murphy and Bobby McFerrin. Their female counterparts are even rarer.

Fortunately, there are plenty of women out there with the gumption to give it a go. Take Babbie Mason. Though some might pigeonhole her as more gospel than jazz, I think she bridges the two camps beautifully. Blessed with a rich, full voice that suggests a more mature and self-assured Whitney Houston, Mason fills eight of the 11 tracks on her latest collection, Timeless (Spring Hill CMD1018; 40:46), with self-penned songs. The results are admirable, if uneven. Mason’s first number, “Play It Again,” is just a paler version of overused openers like “I Feel a Song Coming On,” and “Timeless” sounds awfully similar to “It’s Impossible.” Conversely, “You Have a Way With Words” marries clever lyrics to a heartfelt sentiment, and “Black and Blue” is an evocative blend of the bitter regret and anger that respectively fill “Black Coffee” and “Strange Fruit.” Mason also serves up a dandy arrangement of “Wade in the Water,” made doubly powerful by superb support from a male quartet.

Originally Published