“Miss America should just resign,” suggests New York vocalist Sarah DeLeo on the Leonard Bernstein/Steven Sondheim tune “I Feel Pretty.” Listening to her spotless vocal command and contagious energy, I can’t help but agree with her sentiments.
DeLeo’s second record, I’m In Heaven Tonight, takes some interesting roads and allows the jazz singer and her bandmates the opportunity to stretch out and get comfortable. To be sure, one of the most compelling aspects of this recording is the dutiful approach to the musical arrangements taken by DeLeo. Each song is infused with something different, as if her bravery knows no bounds.
I’m In Heaven Tonight is a more than suitable follow-up to DeLeo’s 2005 debut record,The Nearness of You. Here, she presents another collection of songs that allow her to play storyteller and reach through genres to pull out the very spirit of the music she sings.
Take the potentially tacky “Rockin’ Robin,” for a start. This Bobby Day hit is rearranged by Jay Collins and takes a slight Lee Morgan-inspired roundabout route. DeLeo rocks the house, swaying and snapping through the arrangement with sassiness.
The bittersweet mood of the title track is taken to expressive heights by DeLeo’s control and crystalline elocution. Her timing on the notes charmingly offsets them, offering a conversational quality.
Shifting fluently from ballad to hard-swinging number is natural for DeLeo and her band, as percussionist Mark Bordenet carves out a deep Latin groove on “No Moon at All” and rapidly pops into a crackling jazz roll on “On the Street Where You Live.” Chris Bergson’s guitar is always present but never overwhelming, accenting DeLeo’s voice like a conscientious partner ought to.
Sarah takes a risk with The White Stripes’ “In the Cold, Cold Night” but knocks it out of the park with her sultry, smart delivery. Gary Wang’s bass digs in, giving the cut a solid groove that never overpowers.
All in all, Sarah DeLeo proves her versatility and style with I’m In Heaven Tonight. Her tone is immaculate, her control is outstanding, and her method is unique and fresh. She offers stories with her diverse takes on these songs and provides characters that listeners will return to time and again.