But lest we forget, Kent isn’t the first American to make a career of singing faithful renditions of classic songs by the likes of Gershwin, Arlen or Rodgers. Susannah McCorkle started doing the same thing 30 years ago when she moved to England. Yet, the same critics who praise Kent’s sweetness of voice and devotion to lyrics sometimes yawned when McCorkle released another CD dedicated to the literate knowledge of the lyrics’ subtleties--even those among less-well-recognized popular or Broadway songs like those of Rupert Holmes or Paul Simon. Both Kent and McCorkle established an emotional bond with their listeners, often taking the time after performances to liste--really liste--to the comments of audience members. Performing for charity events, they found that their music uplifted people and helped them forget their troubles as they again sought hope or recalled past joys. The difference, though, is that Kent truly is happy, reflecting her gladness in her music, while McCorkle was depressive, her music a disguise for inner suffering that few people recognized until it was too late.
Stacey Kent’s understanding of her fans actually helped her choose the songs on Dreamsville, for most of them result from e-mailed requests. The others are dedicated to people important in her life, like her sister Penny, her mentor Humphrey Lyttelton or Dreamsville songwriter Jay Livingston.
Kent’s voice is one that reaches people’s innermost emotions. Who knows how? One Stacey Kent enthusiast took her CD into the labor room so that her child could be born listening to Kent’s voice. Sometimes Kent’s music is played when a wedding engagement is proposed.
Disarming and consistently positive, Kent interprets all of her songs with a wide-eyed, and yet knowing, wonder that remains in love with the music. A comparative literature major, Kent, once again like McCorkle, has a fascination with words--but also with the cadence of phrases and rhymes, thereby turning poetry into music without undue embellishment or excessive ornamentation. Kent’s smallish and yet confident voice is truly her own. While it may comfort critics to compare her to, say, Mildred Bailey or Billie Holiday, the comparisons are invalid and diminish Kent’s individuality.
Backed by her usual group of British musicians, including husband Jim Tomlinson, Kent seems to have an understanding with them that the song assumes supremacy and that the musicians are its servants. This humility balances the irresistible appeal of the music with the emotional openness of the listeners so that Kent And Company act more as effective, respectful messengers than overwrought, egotistical interpreters.
With the success of Dreamsville’s unhurried and romantic feel, consistent throughout the CD, Stacey Kent no doubt will become even better known in her native country, the United States, as she expands her international reputation.