On her latest release, Anais St. John chooses difficult terrain and proves her mettle as a navigator. The fourteen standards showcase her talent while reflecting a willingness to test her strengths and limitations.
St. John’s classical training and range are unmistakable, her vocal control well-suited to dramatize quieter tracks like “Ill Wind.” She’s more likely to be grand than bluesy, royal rather than earthy. This manifests interestingly on “My Man O’ War,” an old blues song that St. John swings in the direction of musical theater. The results are positive. Elsewhere, her precision works against the material. For example, a little imperfection on “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” would only add to the seduction. This tension between sharply-honed skill and edgier sensualism expresses itself nicely on “I Wanna Be Evil.” St. John points out the dark corners she seeks, getting rougher and more lustful as she goes, then soars at the end, a fine resolution.
On “Caravan,” she conjures mystery as the band ripples around her. Throughout the album, Wendell Brunious’s trumpet is consistently thoughtful. Lawrence Sieberth is noteworthy as always on piano, especially on his Monkish solo on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” Michael Esneault contributes keys to other tracks, gamely paralleling St. John’s dynamics on “I Love Paris.” Throughout, the arrangements and musicians provide steady, creative support for a voice that continues to seek out challenges.