Though her career touched four decades, Judy Garland released surprisingly few albums. None, save 1961’s landmark Judy at Carnegie Hall, were major successes; her recordings generated nowhere near the sales or acclaim of LPs by such contemporaries as Sinatra, Nat Cole and Peggy Lee. Yet, thanks largely to her film work, Garland’s well of signature tunes is as deep as her peers’.
Attempting to replicate Garland’s power and panache is a fool’s gambit. No one can, or ever will, match the unique yin-yang of her towering vocal fearlessness and naked emotional vulnerability. So her material is best tapped in fresh, inventive ways, as Rufus Wainwright did with his note-for-note reimagining of the Carnegie Hall concert, and as Hilary Kole does across these 15 jazz-infused covers.
With perspicacious accompaniment from pianist John di Martino, bassist Paul Gill, drummer Aaron Kimmel and saxophonist Joel Frahm, Kole opens with a sly “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” then segues into a breezily dreamy “The Boy Next Door.” Kole’s “The Man That Got Away” fully captures its inky desolation but with steel-lined resolve, and her “The Trolley Song” is taken at a sprightlier clip than Garland’s. Her string-laden “Over the Rainbow” emerges as less yearning, more maturely wishful. Kole also ventures further than most into the Garland songbook, adding a gorgeously grey-skied “A Cottage for Sale” (performed once by Garland, on her short-lived TV series) and, a concert favorite from her twilight years, an “As Long as He Needs Me” of equally bruised poignancy.