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Hillary Capps, A Perfect Dozen

Album Review

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(Pokerhill, CD)

Ours is an age that reduces amateur vocalists to fanatical reality-television contestants. So it’s comforting to discover that there are still singers like Hillary Capps in the studio, honing their talents the time-honored way. A Perfect Dozen is the twentysomething jazz songstress and Underhill native’s solid debut release, a sturdy collection of 12 classic jazz vocal standards.

Despite her youth, Capps is already a veteran, and her savvy is obvious to the listener straight away, a capacity fashioned by an interesting combination of talent and pedigree. Since the age of 16, she has been performing with her father, a noted Vermont jazz artist, educator and studio engineer. He ably backs her on the record with the ensemble that bears his name, The Joe Capps Group.

Even veterans of the jazz stage will have to respect the younger Capps’ fearless song selections. Tom Jobin’s “One Note Samba” and Etta James’ “At Last” aren’t exactly campfire tunes. And they are certainly not for hobbyists, given their technical and emotional requirements. But Hillary Capps manages this challenge with impressive command of these and other classic selections. Her remarkably clean voice prevails delightfully over the skillful backing musicianship found throughout A Perfect Dozen.

In the hands of lesser talents, standards such as “East of the Sun” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” are often bumbled by over-singing or extravagant instrumentalism. But Capps and her fellow musicians avoid such pitfalls here. Her vocal accents are crafted with dexterity, and the band’s improvisations are rooted in a careful consideration of each tune’s composition.

“You Don’t Know Me” is a particularly touching illustration of the singer’s skilled phrasing and tonal range. This interpretation of the Cindy Walker classic becomes a superb dialogue between Tom Cleary’s nimble piano work and Capps’ lissome intonation.

What is most impressive about this album — and Hillary Capps — is the particular soulfulness the singer shows at such a tender age. A Perfect Dozen inspires anticipation of future works from this natural talent. Meanwhile, her debut collection is a welcome infusion of youth in a genre that can be stuffy.

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