Sue Raney, the vibrant songstress known for her seamless renditions of classic and lesser-known standard tunes, tried on a new hat Tuesday at the Vine St. Bar & Grill, delivering tunes on which, for the most part, she had penned lyrics to music written by her accompanist, keyboardist Ryo Okemoto. Though it had a few creases that needed straightening, the hat looked OK.
The songs, constructed with a pop flavor that reminded one of Antonio Carlos Jobim here and Michel Legrand and Barry Manilow there, had a bit of jazz pizazz too, thanks mostly to Raney’s stylish delivery and in particular to her surprising gushes of intensity. Going along at medium volume, she would suddenly soar to clear, loud high notes that had real impact.
Not that her lyrics didn’t. They ranged from a Brazilian fantasy in “Guanabara Bay” to a paean to the elderly in “Grandfather,” as well as several about love and romance, such as the beguiling “Waiting to Be Born,” a tale of imagined true love. Though occasionally Raney’s words sounded like well-worn cliches, they usually rang true.
Okemoto provided resilient accompaniment, offering a variety of tones--a trumpet-like sound here, a choral-group effect there--from a synthesizer that at times clashed with what he played, often simultaneously, at the acoustic piano. While not a persuasive jazz improviser, he had a few solo moments that added zest to the show, which was repeated Wednesday.
Raney, who also sang the Legrand-Bergman collaboration “Summer Me, Winter Me” and an upbeat Johnny Mandel song, “As Sure as You’re Born,” should be congratulated for taking a chance and trying a new direction. With a little polishing, it could become her strong suit, and not a sideline.