With its vagabond heart and themes of wanderlust, Stacey Kent's seventh album, Breakfast On The Morning Tram, is like a wistful update on Sinatra's classic Come Fly With Me.
Kent trades Frank's ring-a-ding bravado for a quiet playfulness, showing there's more than one way to stamp a passport.
The album begins with two lovers testing their mettle at "The Ice Hotel" (a real hotel in Sweden, where everything from the front desk in the lobby to the beds is carved from ice). Sliding along on tinkly piano, Kent's crystalline voice and clever rhymes--"A thermostat guarantees / A steady minus-five degrees"--the song is a bewitching first chapter in the travelogue.
Continuing in "So Romantic," a vacationing couple undermines exotic locales with grousing relationship melodrama. "I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again" is a tongue-in-cheek ode to the restlessness of being stuck in the same place. And in the title cut, a young girl alone in a new city finds solace in coffee and croissants.
In the early '90s, Kent was that girl, an American abroad studying for a Masters in comparative literature. A chance meeting at Oxford with saxophonist Jim Tomlinson led to romance and a discovery that her love of singing jazz was more than a hobby. Ten years after her debut, Kent ranks with Diana Krall and Michael Bublé as a torch-bearer of the Great American Songbook.
On Breakfast, she includes a few unstandard standards, such as Sergio Mendes's "So Many Stars," the old Vaudeville tune "Hard-Hearted Hannah" and Serge Gainsbourg's "Ces Petits Riens." Her hushed reading of "What A Wonderful World" (made famous by Satchmo) is a highlight, its sweet melody ripe for the confidential tone of her voice.
Much of the power of the original songs comes from the lyrics, penned by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day). As he does in his fiction, Ishiguro captures the elusive feeling of sadness with a smile. And Kent's nuanced delivery is in perfect harmony with that vibe.
Breakfast On The Morning Tram is timeless traveling music. • Bill DeMain