With either set of songs, you’ve got a winner with Kilgore | TheUnion.com

With either set of songs, you’ve got a winner with Kilgore

The Starlit Hour

Rebecca Kilgore and Dave Frishberg

Arbors Records

Grade: A

Harlem Butterfly

Rebecca Kilgore

Audiophile Records

Grade: A+

With songstress Rebecca Kilgore, what you see is what you get. And you really couldn’t ask for more.

In the big-band era, the singer would have been the toast of the town. Now, 50 years later, she’s a reminder there once were vocalists on the order of Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest and Peggy Lee who could get inside the lyrics because they sang from the heart.

That’s the way it is with Kilgore, too. She doesn’t merely sing the words – she embraces them. And with her sunny disposition, perfect pitch, unerring sense of time and ability to choose songs that fit her feelings, Becky is a joy. Pure and simple.

It’s dealer’s choice with the two recordings under consideration. Either way, you’ll be holding winning hands. The collaboration with long-standing soulmate-pianist Dave Frishberg was recorded at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore. And the tribute to Maxine Sullivan (Harlem Butterfly) was recorded at a studio session in the company of the Bobby Gordon Trio: clarinetist Bobby Gordon, pianist Chris Dawson and timekeeper Hal Smith.

Frishberg, composer of “Peel Me a Grape,” “Dear Bix,” and others, proves an able companion for the lighthearted stylings of Kilgore. Like the songstress, he appreciates an appealing melody with meaningful lyrics, and together the pair wend their way through a combination of everyday standards and other gems less well known.

The 19-song tune list includes such items as the wistful “Memphis in June”; the downers “Cry Me a River” and “Ten Cents a Dance,” which Kilgore still manages to sing with a smile in her voice; and “Thanks For the Memory” and “Glad To Be Unhappy,” in which the songstress also offers sunny side up. Other tantalizing entries include “I Hear Music”; the rarely heard “You Smell So Good”; “Evenin'” and “How Long Blues” out of the Basie book; and the old Skinny Ennis favorite “Got a Date With an Angel.”

Kilgore’s outing with the Gordon-Dawson-Smith combine is even more laid-back than the songstress’ performance with Frishberg. And it’s every bit as appealing.

Gordon’s super-soft clarinet, Dawson’s sparse note approach to a keyboard and Smith’s whisper-quiet drumming provide a perfect cushion for the way Kilgore tiptoes through the lyrics to a song, almost any song.

Billed as a tribute to Maxine Sullivan, Kilgore’s program includes such Sullivan staples as “One Hundred Years From Today,” “The Lady’s In Love With You” and “Legalize My Name.” Other tracks that evoke memories of the diminutive singer: “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down Myself a Letter,” “As Long As I Live” and two takes of the title track.

Given her admiration for Sullivan and selections that for the most part were in Maxine’s book, based on this recording it’d be tempting to say Kilgore is a mirror-image of her idol. Not so, although Kilgore’s wonderful lilt, gentleness and impeccable taste are shared qualities. However, Kilgore’s voice also has a catch-in-throat quality that’s particularly evident on mid-tempo songs -the calypso “Enjoy Yourself,” is a good example that’s much closer to Anita O’Day than it is Sullivan.

In short, Becky Kilgore is Becky Kilgore. Much to our good fortune!

Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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