Mandy Barnett was born to make this album. Every Star Above’s songs from the Great American Songbook — the same songs Billie Holiday performed for her Lady in Satin — are perfect matches for Barnett’s lush and sultry vocals, and she captures perfectly every note and phrase. It’s easy to imagine Barnett sweeping onto the stage of a supper club to deliver these songs, backed by the Harry James Orchestra or Nelson Riddle’s or Ray Ellis’ band. She’s backed here by a 60-piece orchestra, and the songs are arranged by the legendary jazz maestro Sammy Nestico (Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan), who died recently at age 96. Barnett inhabits every song she sings, living into its phrasing and turning it inside out and breathing her own life into it.
The title of the opening track, “But Beautiful,” well describes the album; cascading strings blossom into Barnett’s luxuriant vocals, which bathe us with exquisite waves of longing for the beauty of love and the pleasure of taking a chance on it, no matter the risks. Barnett demonstrates her command of range as she moves from a lower register at the song’s start to a higher one toward the song’s climax. The muted trumpet solo on the instrumental bridge evokes the play of two lovers dancing through a relationship.
The bright vamp “You’ve Changed,” demonstrates Barnett’s ability to capture emotion by trilling from a higher vocal register to a lower one; the modulation upward in key toward the end of the song movingly conveys a lover’s regret at losing her partner to another but resignation to moving on. The bright “Easy to Remember” blows like a spring breeze through the album, dancing around the memories of love and the regret of losing it, while the minor chord “You Don’t Know What Love Is” blooms into a jazzy cinematic number that rides on Barnett’s soaring vocals. The album closes with the languorous torch song “For All We Know,” and Barnett’s sweltering vocals leave us wanting more.
Every Star Above is Barnett’s tribute to Holiday and Lady in Satin, which Barnett says inspired her to become a torch singer. But Barnett makes these songs her own, and her versions stand alone as performances destined to become classics.