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Jo Stafford

Sony

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It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the lyricism of either artist that the late tenor saxophonist Lester Young cited vocalist Jo Stafford as one of his favorite performers. Stafford’s readings of classics like “You Belong to Me,” as well as her lesser-known interpretations of material such as “Where Are You”—which combines an aching romanticism and the hip-swaying sensuality of African-American-derived post-World War II music—possess an indisputable depth and intensity. (And this despite often corny orchestral arrangements by the singer’s husband, Paul Weston.) The Portrait Collection, a three-CD set, also highlights Stafford’s best-selling spiritual/gospel recordings, as well as material recently reissued on the undervalued JoJazz collection, which features the coursing romanticism of tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. Stafford had ceased performing by the mid-’60s, but she and Weston returned to the studio in the late ’70s to record (under a pseudonym) a revealing commentary on the state of popular songwriting since Tin Pan Alley—funky yet off-key versions of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” (you can finally understand the words) and an equally hilarious reading ofHelen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” during which Weston’s piano somehow retains a straight face.