Cyrille Aimée

Move On: A Sondheim Adventure
(Mack Avenue)

Containing the most erudite and sophisticated lyrics of the past 60 years, the songs of Stephen Sondheim defy breezy interpretation. The interplay between words and music is complex, and his syntax is so precise that any deviation threatens to undermine the flow. Some gifted vocalists have made Sondheim songs their own, but it’s a steep challenge.

Maybe it’s experience throwing herself into tongue-tripping gypsy jazz or an almost flawless conversion from singing in her native French to English, but Cyrille Aimée seems fearless at tackling Sondheim. Calling on the musical heritage of her recently adopted home of New Orleans, she injects a second-line groove into “Take Me To The World,” a lesser-known Sondheim gem from the mid-’60s. A newer song, “No One Is Alone,” from Sondheim’s Into The Woods is given an r&b flavor with a rousing electric guitar solo and horn chorus. “Love, I Hear” and “So Many People” return Aimée to her gypsy roots, and “When I Get Famous” is transformed into an electronic phantasmagoria with layers of vocals.

Those kinds of stylistic liberties encourage new insights into Sondheim’s genius, and Aimée’s guileless delivery adds poignancy to phrases like “marry me a little.”

Aimée’s vocal range isn’t large, and the more naked arrangements—like the duet with bassist Jérémy Bruyère on “I Believe In You”—expose limitations that even the best compositions can’t obscure.