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Finding her groove: Lea DeLaria's latest CD finds the jazz singer still relaxing into the genre.

Double Standards * Lea DeLaria * Telarc

It's no secret by now that Lea DeLaria, the raunchy butch comic, can transform, lickety-split, into Lea the jazz chanteuse. She's been showing off her musical chops with growing conviction over the past several years, from the Newport Jazz Festival to The Rocky Horror Show to her 2001 CD Playing It Cool, in which she jazzed up Broadway show tunes. Now she has put out a second jazz CD that further spreads the word.

Double Standards is, first of all, a brilliant title for a collection of standards that never were standards before. Don't look at the titles; just listen: You'll do a double take when you realize that DeLaria isn't covering the great American songbook, but rather grunge, punk, and rock classics such as Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," Green Day's "Longview," and the Pretenders' "Tattooed Love Boys."

Backed by outstanding jazz instrumentalists--pianist Gil Goldstein, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Bill Stewart, percussionist Bashiri Johnson, marimbist Stefon Harris, and saxophonist Seamus Blake--DeLaria offers contrarian takes on each song. Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" becomes straight-ahead scat jazz; Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" turns into pure funk; the Doors' "People Are Strange" reappears as a moody ballad, and Los Lobos' "Kiko and the Lavender Moon" ventures even further south of the border with an Astor Piazzolla-style Argentinean arrangement.

As a singer, DeLaria's lodestar is obviously Miss Peggy Lee, with a big dollop of Ella Fitzgerald's scat stylings throw in for flavor. But to this listener, DeLaria sounds best on more pop-inflected cuts, where she relaxes into the melodies--particularly her funk-jazz version of No Doubt's feminist "Just a Girl" and her lovely, vibes-dominated ballad version of Neil Young's "Philadelphia."

The CD is a classy project--kudos to Goldstein, pulling double duty as principal arranger and coproducer in addition to anchoring the band on piano--and one wants to like it more. DeLaria has a pleasant voice and careful phrasing--especially on ballads, where she doesn't try so hard to be Lee--but she still seems a wannabe, albeit one with solid talent. While the great ones fully inhabit the music, DeLaria puts on jazz like a costume. She's an actor who can play a jazz part with surprising elan, and maybe one day she'll actually be jazz.

Kort is author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro.
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Title Annotation:Music; Double Standards
Author:Kort, Michele
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 12, 2005
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