Over his more than two-decade career Curtis Stigers has straddled the boundaries between jazz and pop, pop and Americana, and more. His latest, Hooray for Love, his eighth release for Concord Records, rolls comfortably along the jazz-standard track, despite the presence of several original tunes (including the title track) and one by Steve Earle. Now a bit rough-edged if not quite gravelly, his dry baritone is as at home on a relaxed jazz album like this as on something like his dark rendition of “John the Revelator” from the Sons of Anarchy soundtrack. His upper register doesn’t almost display quite the clarity it used to, though that could be a choice made for the material or an effect of the mic he chose to use. Anyway for most of the album he stays in his comfortable baritone depths.
These 10 easygoing and good-natured tracks will put you in a mellow mood but not to sleep – a nice trick. I particularly like the behind-the-beat shuffle of the Gershwins’ “Our Love is Here to Stay.” A bass-fueled duet with Cyrille Aimée on the old chestnut “You Make Me Feel So Young,” featuring the latter’s amiable scat-singing, really sounds like it came straight out of a wormhole from the 1940s. “If I Were a Bell,” from Guys and Dolls, gets a spare, classy arrangement with a nice bell effect from Matthew Fries’s piano.
Stigers’s own “Hooray for Love” has some hokey lyrics but pays loving homage to the standards that inspired his own writing in the style. The same goes for “Give Your Heart to Me,” as he sings with a practically audible wink, “You give the sugarplum its sweetness / You give the cinnamon some spice.” I’d say they don’t write lyrics like that anymore, but “they” do – or at least he does, and why not? Put the album on in the background while you’re working, say, only half-listening, and I’ll bet your brain chalks up the songs you don’t know as old songs you’ve never heard and not new compositions.
I appreciate his understated approach to “The Way You Look Tonight,” a song that, to be fair, really would be very difficult to ruin. There are tasteful horn touches on “That’s All” and elsewhere (co-producer John Sneider on trumpet, Stigers himself on tenor sax). Altogether the mood stays pretty chipper until you get to the last song, a moody take on the oft-recorded standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” with a liquid muted-trumpet solo from Sneider. Even this sad number goes into a gentle double-time feel as it builds towards a big, airy finish with Stigers’s voice leaping to a conclusive and well-deserved high note.