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Stacey Kent : Breakfast on the Morning Tram

Ever since her relocation to the U.K. and her marriage to British saxophonist, arranger, lyricist and producer Jim Tomlinson, Stacey Kent has established herself as a first-rate but disappointingly single-minded and predictable miner of the Great American Songbook. Now, at long last, the angel-voiced Kent is paralleling a change in labels (to the French division of Blue Note, after a decade with London-based Candid) with an alteration in musical direction that is as welcome as it is exciting.

Gone is the girlish chanteuse with too strong a penchant for creaky chestnuts and sunny standards like “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “Shall We Dance.” In her place is a sultrier, more interesting Kent, one who can wade into Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” and Sergio Mendes’ “So Many Stars” with mature wisdom and, singing in flawless French, can dive headlong into the romantic murkiness of the Serge Gainsbourg songbook. But the true brilliance of Breakfast on the Morning Tram lies in Kent’s whip-smart interpretations of four originals with music by Tomlinson and lyrics from a surprising source, Kazuo Ishiguro, one of the finest novelists in all of contemporary fiction. Ishiguro’s lyrics, all built around the theme of traveling (both in the literal sense and as a metaphor for growing), can be Cole Porter beguiling (the witty “Ice Hotel” brings new meaning to romantic frigidity) or Lorenz Hart clever (healing heartbreak with calories, as recommended in the title track), and provide a marvelously inventive launching pad for this bold, brave new Kent.

Originally Published