Melissa Errico isn’t a jazz singer, but for the past two decades she was the vocalist of choice for Michel Legrand and Stephen Sondheim, collaborating with both composers on various recordings, projects, and stage productions. She knows her way around a lyric. Her new album Out of the Dark is a pandemic project that focuses on material ostensibly written for or inspired by film noir. It’s ripe territory for a singer who can inhabit a song, and as a Tony Award-nominated actress she plunges into the role, offering charcoaled impressions of ill-fated romance, obsession, and thwarted dreams.
Pianist Tedd Firth’s bespoke arrangements maintain the emotional continuity as the album unspools like a saloon song cycle, a gimlet-eyed dreamscape that thrums to Bob Mann’s guitar chords and Joe Locke’s vibes. With a lyric by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, the album’s creative consultant, David Shire’s “Farewell, My Lovely” (from Robert Mitchum’s 1975 take on Chandler’s Marlow) is a gem. But by the time the program closes with another find, Dorcas Cochran and Lionel Newman’s “Again” (introduced by Ida Lupino in the 1948 noir Road House), the project seems to have taken a detour away from the, well, dark.
Errico knows this territory—she recently co-curated a film festival of noir classics at New York’s French Institute Alliance Française—but the album’s net is cast too wide. She imbues “Blame It on My Youth” and “The Man That Got Away” with the requisite ache, but they’re torch songs without a hint of menace. Rather than redemption, Out of the Dark could have used a double shot of cynicism and hard-boiled attitude (Paul Williams’ neglected “The Long Goodbye” would have fit the bill).