CD Review by Marilyn Lester . . .

Recording artist Mandy Barnett is nothing if not versatile. She can belt out Broadway and pop, drop comfortably into country, wherein lie her roots, and, most of all, carry a torch with finesse and authority. Barnett’s latest studio album Every Star Above (Melody Place/BMG) beautifully explores the Great American Songbook—with strings. The CD is also steeped in noir with touches of jazz, courtesy of the late legendary jazz arranger, Sammy Nestico, who passed this January at age 96.

What Nestico sought in Every Star Above was the feel of the 1958 Billie Holiday album, Lady in Satin, an important release then (and now). It was a body of work that influenced Barnett as a young vocalist, especially in her pursuit of torch singing. Lady in Satin featured the legendary jazz singer with a symphony orchestra—a bold and ultimately successful move. The collaboration of Nestico and Barnett to replicate that circumstance and sound has produced a certified winner. The lushness of the symphonic arrangements emerges immediately in the opener, “But Beautiful” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke). With Barnett’s command of her role as a strong vocalist in such a setting, the orchestral ethos of the Holiday album carries through with perfection, with hints of Holiday through the lens of Barnett especially emerging in “You’ve Changed” (Carl Fischer/Bill Carey).

The singer’s keen interpretive ability is especially front and center on “Glad To Be Unhappy”(Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart), with Barnett hitting just the right balance of emotions, perfectly capturing the irony of the lyric. Likewise, “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Hoagy Carmichael) also capitalizes on the emotive, aching irony of love gone wrong. A particular highlight of Every Star Above is “You Don’t Know What Love Is” (Gene De Paul/Don Raye). It’s a challenging song, but Barnett aces the tempo changes and demanding phrasing with confidence and ease, and nuanced dynamics. Sammy Nestico can rest proud of his last work as an arranger. In Barnett he’s found a singer of range and depth, whose honied vocal tone and acute musical sensibility permeate every note on this five-star album.