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Mary Stallings: But Beautiful

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Though two decades have passed since Mary Stallings’ dynamic emergence from an equally long semi-retirement, she remains an undervalued treasure. Perhaps it’s because her musicianship is so seamless, her vocal agility so seemingly effortless, that the tremendousness of her gift isn’t immediately obvious. As an interpreter of standards she is nonpareil. When she opts for straight-ahead readings, as here on “The Lamp Is Low,” “Autumn in New York” and the title track, the results are stunning. But Stallings’ greatest skill is in shaping new, utterly arresting approaches to shopworn tunes. Not since Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane delivered their definitive version has anyone so stunningly revisited “Dedicated to You,” here made charmingly light and breezy. Likewise, the traditionally solemn “Some Other Spring” is shot through with hopeful optimism. Conversely, the rakish “Just a Gigolo,” reworked as a third-person narrative, is transformed into a gently cautionary ballad.

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