The last time Cassandra Wilson attempted an album devoted purely to standards --Blue Skies from 1988 -- she played it uncustomarily safe. Loverly, a new standards project, displays the considerable distance this acclaimed singer has come over the years. Loverly calls on the idiosyncratic mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation and rural blues inflections that her fans have become familiar with since the 1993 breakthroughBlue Light ?Til Dawn. The repertoire may draw from the likes of Lerner & Loewe and Harold Arlen, but the performances abound with folk and slide guitars, hand percussion, and the unconventional piano work of Jason Moran. In other words, off-kilter sheen on familiar material -- an approach that Wilson, in excellent, customarily laid-back form, takes to with second-nature glee. She also allows herself more freedom by wisely extending the standards concept to include the bluesy "St. James Infirmary" and "Dust My Broom," the Latinized Ellington hit "Caravan," the bossa nova warhorse "A Day in the Life of a Fool," and her own percussive original "Arere." The most resonant performances are the simplest. Accompanied only by the Joni Mitchell–esque guitar work of Marvin Sewell, Wilson delivers a "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" for the ages; while "The Very Thought of You," with the lone support of bassist Lonnie Plaxico, displays the sensuous ease that no jazz singer of her generation has yet to match.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.