Jane Monheit: The Heart of the Matter

There are distinctive Jane Monheit traits-the stretched notes, the dusky mewing, the ever-present tear in her voice-that can be her best or worst assets. Across the 14 tracks that fill The Heart of the Matter, her eighth studio album, the vote is split. When she ambles through the tender lullaby “Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day” and the similar “Night Night Stars” (the first song she’s recorded that features self-penned words and music), Monheit’s softly maudlin style is affecting. But the pervasive gloom, far more evident here than on any of her preceding albums, can grow wearisome. Despite the best efforts of such accomplished collaborators as producer, pianist and accordionist Gil Goldstein, guitarist Romero Lubambo and bassist Neal Miner, what was surely intended as wistfulness too often turns leaden. When even as relentlessly peppy a number as Joe Raposo’s “Sing” is made to sound sad, you know you’re adrift in a windless sea.

True to her cabaret leanings, Monheit has always been a good storyteller. Here, though, she’s occasionally guilty of distracting scenery chewing, particularly on an overplayed “Two Lonely People” and a too-emotive “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” Intriguingly, all annoyances disappear when she switches to Portuguese for a double dip into the Ivan Lins songbook, beautifully traversing “Dependes de Nós” and “A Gente Merece Ser Feliz.”