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.

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).