In her liner notes, singer Kate McGarry calls Girl Talk “my first straight ahead recording in many years.” From the opening notes of “We Kiss In a Shadow,” however, it’s evident that “straight ahead” may accurately reflect McGarry’s choice of material for her latest album, but her take on that material is as varied and idiosyncratic as ever.
Wordlessly singing the melody in tandem with guitarist (and husband) Keith Ganz and pianist Gary Versace, McGarry approaches the standard from The King and I with a willowy charm that’s more akin to singer-songwriters like Rickie Lee Jones or Joni Mitchell than to Rodgers and Hammerstein. More traditional are the next two tracks, a bluesy stroll through the title track with Versace on organ and a coyly swinging “I Just Found Out About Love.”
McGarry aims to pay homage to the female jazz singers she most admires with this record, but the result is less about evoking the past than it is about honoring those vocalists through McGarry’s own approach. The point is playfully illustrated by the cover image of the singer bellowing into a toy megaphone. That image aside, McGarry’s not much for gimmickry in the music itself. Employing a refreshing directness and clarity, she puts her faith in the power of the songs and in her uncomplicated arrangements.
“The Man I Love” is thus given a shadowy, ethereal hue, while “Charade” slinks by with spy-movie exoticism. Singer Kurt Elling duets with McGarry on a shimmering take of Dori Caymmi’s “O Cantador.” A few selections, notably “This Heart of Mine” and “It’s a Wonderful World,” are unable to escape a certain feeling of quaintness that the more modernized selections avoid, but for the most part McGarry succeeds with the unadorned brightness of her voice.