Vocalist Blossom Dearie was an American original who amassed a distinctive repertoire by choosing — and also eventually writing — material that balanced Tin Pin Alley, Broadway and intimate cabaret piano jazz. As a singer, Dearie (who died in 2009 at the age of 83) possessed refined intonation, a sly sense of swing and playful phrasing — gifts she frequently combined with a Cupie-doll affectation (partially borne of her limited range) that helped nudge her more fancifully humorous tunes into novelty territory.
Although Dearie die-hards will likely disagree, Amy Cervini has distilled the strengths and siphoned off the weaknesses of the Dearie method in her marvelous tribute, Digging Me Digging You. She’s the right person for the job, possessing her own slightly girlish style and a heartfelt appreciation for Dearie’s catalog – she led off her last album with a Dearie song.
Cervini covers songs from throughout Dearie’s career here, from the ’50s through the ’80s, and tellingly chooses two Dearie originals — “I Like You, You’re Nice,” and “I’m Shadowing You,” both romantic paeans from a would-be stalker — that showcase her wry, humorous sophistication beneath the kitsch. Yet Cervini’s interpretations through Digging allow for more complexity and creativity from her backing band and her vocals possess more range and room to move, without losing Dearie’s intelligent commitment to the song. Check the way pianist Bruce Barth and drummer Matt Wilson lead off David Frishberg’s “My Attorney Bernie,” or the detailed arrangement Cervini deploys on of Dearie’s most enduring covers, “Everything I’ve Got” from Rodgers and Hart.