Libby York has been on the scene for a while, but for those who haven’t yet encountered her music, her fifth album Dreamland makes an excellent introduction.
It’s been nine years since she put out the quietly beguiling Memoir, and she’s lost none of her old-school luster in the interim. Working with a highly sympathetic tandem of guitarist Randy Napoleon and bassist Rodney Whitaker (and drummer Keith Hall on four of the album’s 12 tracks), York has a keen ear for material that fits her confiding, fine-grained voice. Opening with the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen gem that gives the album its name, she leans into the soporific subject, accentuating the lulling invitation. Even when she picks up the tempo, like on an ebulliently swinging arrangement of Rodgers and Hart’s “Mountain Greenery,” she remains unperturbable, phrasing with relaxed authority.
A mentee of Abbey Lincoln’s, York offers several hat tips to the departed master, rendering her best-known song, “Throw It Away,” with intense conviction, making each line land with the force of a penetrating aphorism. Taking a gently predatory groove on Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “An Occasional Man,” a song indelibly stamped by Lincoln on her 1957 album That’s Him, York makes that island sound mighty inviting. And if her version of “Rhode Island Is Famous For You” doesn’t eclipse Blossom Dearie’s, she gambols through the playful lyrics with similar style.
Her North Star, however, is Rosemary Clooney, whose luminous presence is evoked on that ode to resilience and survival, “Still on the Road.” The posthumous Johnny Mercer/Barry Manilow collaboration “When October Goes” is another keeper, distilling the beatific pain of loss in sure strokes. York’s tone and emotional acuity often bring Clooney to mind, which is a very good thing indeed.