This delightful album by Chicago-based vocalist Lee Stevens, recorded nearly ten years ago, serves as a conspicuous reminder that there are many talented artists in this vast country of ours who, through no fault of their own, are by and large unknown but would perform for an audience of one if necessary—simply because that is what they do.
Stevens has been entertaining music-lovers at Chicago nightspots and other venues for years because that is what she does, much like another impressive Windy City songstress, Hinda Hoffman, who, like Stevens, deserves to be more widely heard and appreciated. But those are the breaks, and climbing the ladder of success in the music business is typically more a matter of luck than talent. The market has a lot to do with it too, and the truth is there’s not much room at the top these days for singers who draw their inspiration from the Great American Songbook and cling tenaciously to the old-fashioned idea of substance over image.
If there were (room, that is), Stevens would perhaps be competing for a place near the summit, armed with a pleasing voice, clear enunciation and a natural sense of lyricism and swing. She is carefree and relaxed on this recital of well-known standards, belting or crooning as required and easily nailing every note, high or low. Stevens is supported by various groups ranging from trio to big band, none of whose personnel are listed and whose music (on some tracks) may have been electronically enhanced to broaden its acoustic base. There are a few fades along the way, but none that is bothersome.
While every song is well-crafted and enjoyable, I was most impressed by those Stevens sings with the large ensemble—“Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” “It’s All Right with Me,” “Whatever Lola Wants,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “Yesterdays,” “Mean to Me,” “What’s New?” Not that the others are less pleasing; I simply prefer big bands, and her anonymous back-up crews (including harmonica on “Mean to Me”) are quite good. Stevens is quite good too, sings like a lark with plenty of emotion, and Living a Dream is a stress-free flight from takeoff to landing.