Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it is said. But it's not always artists doing the imitating. When a fresh sound hits the music scene, one can always expect labels, agents and promoters to pick up on anyone bearing even a passing resemblance. Such is the case with singer Lauren White. White doesn't seem to be actively mimicking anybody, but a stylistic debt to red-hot Norah Jones pervades many of the tracks on her debut CD, At Last. In fact, her press kit proudly points out, she trained under the same vocal coach as Jones. But one listen gives it away: Like Jones, White prefers laconic tempos, never scats and spends much of her singing time in her middle and lower registers. If one can get past that resemblance, other influences emerge in White's singing. Her closest contemporary would have to be Jane Monheit. Like her, White demonstrates a clear, light touch on the high notes, and surrounds herself with top-notch jazz players. Bill Cunliffe, Rickey Woodard and Anthony Wilson all have solid credentials and gently nudge the singer out of her comfort zone when they can.
White fares best on songs that are well-written but not overdone. The little-heard Ira Gershwin tune "My One and Only" demonstrates what she can do with the right material. A rumbling "Poinciana" drumbeat livens up "Mack the Knife," but little can be done to resurrect either "My Funny Valentine" or "At Last," despite arrangement efforts by Cunliffe and Wilson, respectively. Among the newer tunes, Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou" moves into the jazz realm nicely, and Lee Ann Womack's country hit "Why They Call It Falling" proves that good songs can come from any genre. White acquits herself on the Carpenters/Luther Vandross hit "Superstar," but the tune's structure doesn't lend itself to a jazzier interpretation. White also throws in three mildly interesting pieces co-written with her dad Willard, with the finger-snapper "Brand New Love" standing out most.
At 20 years old, White has yet to come into the emotional depth to sell this collection of songs to their full potential (and can we put a minimum age on anyone singing "Love for Sale"?). But "At Last" is a solid first effort that shows a lot of promise for the future.