With her delightful but unsettling mix of whimsy and earnest irony, Kat Edmonson is a vocalist who can get inside your head and keep you up at night. Her fifth album, Dreamers Do, offers a bracing antidote to sleepless nights, as she’s scoured Disney soundtracks for songs about dreams, slumber, and the anxieties that ruffle our pillows. Rather than serving as a soporific, it’s a seductive sojourn that alternately lulls and surprises.
Although nominally a concept album about soothing oneself through an angst-filled evening, Dreamers Do is held together more by Edmonson’s fey aesthetic and small, pliable, Blossom Dearie-esque voice than any thematic through line. Working closely with drummer Aaron Thurston, who co-produced the album with her and arranged most of the songs, Edmonson employs a different instrumental lineup on every track (though the majority of the pieces include bassist Bob Hart, guitarist Matt Munisteri, and Rob Schwimmer on various keyboards and Haken Continuum synthesizer). She uncovers several long-buried gems, like Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard’s “Very Good Advice” from 1951’s Alice In Wonderland, delivered as a time-stopping cabaret duet with pianist Matt Ray. But some of the best tracks are also the most obvious choices. Refashioning “When You Wish Upon a Star” into a languorously spooky incantation that opens with Yacouba Sissoko’s kora and Deep Singh’s tabla, Edmonson makes Jiminy Cricket’s promise to Pinocchio sound like a decidedly mixed blessing.
Not every reimagining hits home. “Go to Sleep,” from the obscure 1961 film Babes in Toyland, strikes my ear as cloyingly sweet. But she follows up with a winsomely wacky version of “In a World of My Own” (also from Alice in Wonderland), a collaboration with the sublime vocal trio Duchess that sounds both vintage and timeless. The album’s dreamy quality is sustained by half a dozen brief scene-setting interludes, which often feature Schwimmer’s evocative soundscapes.
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