Karen Oberlin/Sean Harkness: A Wish

One of Manhattan’s most accomplished cabaret and off-Broadway performers, Karen Oberlin blends the supper-club sass of Ann Hampton Callaway with the pop purity of Doris Day. She has released three previous discs and made guest appearances on several multi-artist projects. Never, however, has Oberlin sounded as nakedly beautiful as in this spare, mellow pairing with guitarist Sean Harkness, her tendency toward theatrical brassiness at last tempered.

Sturdy standards and Broadway ballads-“I’ll String Along With You,” “My One and Only Love,” “Poor You,” “Remind Me,” Funny Girl‘s pensive “The Kind of Man a Woman Needs”-form the album’s backbone, all winningly cashmere-wrapped. More interesting, though, are the less obvious choices, including gently astute renderings of Paul Simon’s “Train in the Distance,” Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine” (more affecting than Sir Paul’s own version) and an exceptional pair of Fred Hersch compositions: the tender title track, co-written with Norma Winstone, and the delightful “Do You Think This Happens Every Day?,” featuring lyrics by Oberlin’s husband, author and critic David Hajdu. Only once across these dozen tracks does she falter, failing to capture the delicate heart of Joni Mitchell’s “Love” with her overly mannered reading.