It’s all right there in the title: Kat Walker’s Torch Songs is a collection of jazz and old popular ballads with the bare duo texture of only her voice and Amasa Miller’s piano, allowing both to really shine. One doesn’t even miss having a rhythm section, as Amasa’s knowledge of stylistic conventions, skills as a sympathetic accompanist, strong melodic sense and rhythmically powerful forward momentum are plenty enough on their own. The natural brightness of his piano and the recording techniques used to accentuate it, while evocative of the New Orleans R&B piano greats like James Booker, are well-tempered and remain distinct due to Amasa’s restraint and control.
Although Kat cites prominent historical jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan as influences, the full-bodied-yet-breathy sound of her voice on this release bears more similarity to pop-jazz crossover artists from that era like Julie London—as does the downplaying of full-blown vocal improvisation in favor of slight melodic embellishment. The omnipresence of a slight echo effect from studio reverb occasionally detracts when the piano is played sparse, calling a little too much attention to itself. But it does help accent the beauty of her natural breathiness, particularly when Amasa is using fuller, lusher chords.