The Inner Ear

HEAR Stacey Kent’s The Boy Next Door (Candid): Put on Ms. Kent’s album and you’ll understand why Clint Eastwood asked


Stacey Kent’s The Boy Next Door (Candid): Put on Ms. Kent’s album and you’ll understand why Clint Eastwood asked her to sing at his 70th birthday, and why Remains of the Day author Kazuo Ishiguro included one of her CD’s among his “desert island” disc picks for Radio 4 in the U.K. With Ms. Kent’s autumn-crisp voice, as with Messrs. Eastwood’s and Ishiguro’s work, the emotional fire lies beneath the surface and between the lines. And that’s why Ms. Kent sounds like the future of a genre that too often is equated with the kind of over-emoting that makes Martin Short salivate. On The Boy Next Door , Ms. Kent-who hails from New York but makes her home in London, where she is a bona fide European star-takes a crack at songs made popular by some of her favorite male singers, including Perry Como’s “Say It Isn’t So,” Nat King Cole’s “‘Tis Autumn,” Chet Baker’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and, with the title track, Frank Sinatra. As interpreted by Ms. Kent, whose voice manages to sound both young and worldly, and her excellent jazz band-Jim Tomlinson, saxophone; Colin Oxley, guitar; David Newton, keyboards; David Chamberlain, double bass; Matt Home, drums; and Curtis Schwartz, backing vocals-these well-worn tunes sound smartly modernized (save for “The Trolley Song,” which has to do more with the song-it makes me think of Thomas the Tank Engine-than the singer). Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster’s “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” is fantastic, though, and Ms. Kent imparts a contemporary cool to Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” that thankfully has nothing to do with the 70’s. Catch Ms. Kent at the Algonquin until Sept. 27.


You love Elvis Costello before you buy his new album, North (out Sept. 23 on Deutsche Grammophon). On paper, this CD sounded like it would be a must-have: After breaking up with his wife, former Pogue Cait O’Riordan, and hooking up with jazz singer Diana Krall, Mr. Costello heads to New York to record an album. Rebound periods like that are inevitably emotional thrill-park rides that, when converted to songs by artists as capable as Mr. Costello, tend to produce memorable work. (See Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love , which contains the brilliant “Brilliant Disguise,” a song that Mr. Costello has covered.) So, while I expected North to be dark and melancholy, I wish it wasn’t so damn torporous. This time out, Mr. Costello avoids guitars for a spare piano sound with occasional orchestral and jazz flourishes, but the music often sounds like it was performed beneath the gravitational pressure of Jupiter, and Mr. Costello’s lyrics are oddly formal, as if he was trying to write exactly like Porter or Gershwin did back in the day. When I heard Mr. Costello use the word “shan’t” on “Let Me Tell You About Her,” I half expected Conan O’Brien to pop up and trill a line or two in his tremulous Irish tenor.

North opens up a bit after repeated listens, but never entirely, and I can’t help but think that Mr. Costello’s choice to record here earlier this year is partially responsible. The album is essentially about ending one relationship and beginning another one, and all the sorting out that happens in between. (The clues it contains about Mr. Costello’s love life are one reason that Costello freaks are sure to like this album more than the typical civilian.) But Mr. Costello came to a town that, two years after Sept. 11, is still going through a massive emotional passage, and I think he absorbed some of the staggering weight of that. So it’s doubly heartening to hear the album’s final song, “I’m In the Mood Again.” “I walk the damp streets rather than slumber / Along the fine windows of shameless and plunder / But none of their riches could ever compare / I’m in the mood again,” Mr. Costello sings, sounding as if both he and New York have been delivered from their pain.


The Pernice Brothers at Luxx in Williamsburg on Sept. 19. Earlier this summer, Stephen Metcalf wrote in The Observer that Joe Pernice, the leader of the band, “sings his perfect melodies in a gorgeous, feathers-off-a-lapwing voice that’s been compared to Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, or Steve Martin of the Left Banke. With his M.F.A. in poetry and the shifty look of adjunct faculty, Mr. Pernice is the thinking man’s Ryan Adams. His lyrics are one ravishing downer after another, about scratched Lotto tickets and faces smashed on steering columns.” I couldn’t put it any better. Prepare for the concert by buying their latest album, Yours, Mine & Ours (Ashmont), or Massachusetts , the 1996 album from Joe Pernice’s earlier band, the Scud Mountain Boys. Luxx is at 256 Grand Street, between Driggs and Roebling. Phone: 718-599-1000.

The Inner Ear