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T.J. Graham/Rory Stuart: Standards and Insights

T.J. Graham is a Buffalo-born, Memphis-based singer who has toiled as an elementary school teacher, principal and college professor. Making up, I assume, for lost time, Graham covers a tremendous amount of ground on her inaugural CD, Standards and Insights (CIMP). Covering everything from ’60s pop hits (Smoky Robinson’s “Ooh, Baby Baby,” Bacharach and David’s “The Look of Love”) and Oscar-winning movie anthems (“Secret Love,” “Thanks for the Memory”) to swing tunes (“Stompin’ at the Savoy”) and traditional jazz standards (“East of the Sun,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.”). She even manages to squeeze in a Brazilian favorite (“O Barquinho”) and the down-home original “Blue Is the Color of My Broken Heart.” Teaming with virtuoso guitarist Rory Stuart, Graham makes the most of her limited range and relative inexperience. Her unique vocal style, perhaps best described as new country-jazz, suggests a straightahead pop-jazz singer like Jane Monheit accented with the plaintive twang of Skeeter Davis. In other words, she sounds like a more melodic-and significantly savvier-version of lesser Memphis songbird Cybill Shepherd. Graham could use a little polish and needs to even out her countrified enunciation. Still, the potential for her to shift from good to very good is unmistakable.

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