TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR.
In her first few years on the scene, Dallas-born singer Jazzmeia Horn has racked up a few honors, including winning the Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan jazz competitions. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says she's a double threat as a singer and composer. Here's his review of her second album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I SAY")
JAZZMEIA HORN: (Singing) When I say go, don't miss a beat. Be quick on your feet. Hurry up, and let's roll. You won't ever have another like me. So I shouldn't have to beg and plead. You know everything I do makes you smile, makes you proud, makes you wild. Come on now. I'm not a child. So concentrate on me. And when I want, give me your love, give me your time. What's yours is all mine. I want it all, all of it now. Give it to me. Don't ask me how when I say (scatting).
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Jazzmeia Horn's 2017 debut album "Social Call" showed she had a knockout voice and terrific timing as a scat singer. But once she made it, she was working through a little hero worship of jazz great Betty Carter.
On Horn's new follow-up, "Love and Liberation," you can still hear a little Betty in her shifting rhythms. But nowadays Horn sounds like her own woman. Her debut featured a bunch of jazz standards. For "Love and Liberation," Jazzmeia Horn wrote some new tunes that sound as hectic and catchy as vintage bebop.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEARCHIN'")
HORN: (Singing) I kept searching for someone who could turn my life around. But he never noticed. I saw a fella' who had seemed to have wanted a girl like me. But he was too scared to show it. I kept prancing and hoping he would like the moves I made. But he never noticed. Never enough to find my true love, I keep on trying, but time is flying. (Scatting).
WHITEHEAD: Jazzmeia Horn's songwriting role model is the late singer Jon Hendricks, who wrote witty tongue-twister lyrics that weren't too fast for a little social commentary and who tailored those lyrics to classic jazz melodies. To make the connection plain, Horn sings the Hendricks lyric to Hubert Laws' tune "No More."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO MORE")
HORN: (Singing) I ain't going to be the kind that don't make a scene no more, no more. I don't care about rebuke and scorn. I've been struggling right along since I've been born, so no more. No more. Do you hear me? Never. No more.
WHITEHEAD: Jazzmeia Horn tapping into her gospel music upbringing there with guest Sullivan Fortner on piano. Horn's regular pianist Victor Gould and bassist Ben Williams are held over from her first album, now joined by Jamison Ross on drums. The singer's incisive rhythm, high-speed articulation and accurate pitch get a workout on one of her most assured songs, "Out The Window."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT THE WINDOW")
HORN: (Singing) You better think twice because, see, your girl is made of sugar and spice, but all of the sugar that she's made of will go out the window. Now you understand you're the kind of man she preys on. Open up your eyes. Don't believe the lies her deceiving eyes tell. The lady is mischievous, but you cannot see this crazy mystery. Don't you be surprised 'cause this will make you wiser. Before your next decisions, oh, I think you ought to listen. Now, you better think twice. You see, your girl is made of sugar and spice, but all of the sugar that she's made of will go out the window, out the window. (Scatting).
WHITEHEAD: Coming up singing in church and listening to pop music, Jazzmeia Horn has interests that stretch beyond jazz, and she leans over the fence sometimes. Her new album includes a spoken-word recitation, a vocal duet with Jamison Ross on a Rachelle Ferrell ballad and a version of Erykah Badu's "Green Eyes," where Horn overdubs wispy background voices.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN EYES")
HORN: (Singing) I can't remember the last time I felt this way about somebody. You've done something to my mind that I can't control, but I don't love you anymore. Yes, I do, I think. Loving you is wrong. (Scatting).
WHITEHEAD: If Jazzmeia Horn hovers between jazz and pop sometimes, that's been a winning formula for umpteen singers going back to Nat King Cole, and Horn is still pulling together her sundry influences from gospel to vintage Broadway songs. Her tune "Legs And Arms" has an offbeat lyric. The narrator worships from afar like a stalker, but it starts with a lovely, old-fashioned introductory verse. Her tunes are so good, other singers are sure to try them on, but then they'll have to sing them as well as Jazzmeia Horn does. Her interpretations set a standard of their own.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEGS AND ARMS")
HORN: (Singing) And if she'll close the blinds, one thing I'll never find is what she looks like on the outside. Legs and arms are all I look at every day. Feet and hands - oh, how I wish I were the man of her dreams. Oh, boy, it seems she's not interested in love. If only I could just lie next to her, I'd be the gayest man alive holding her. But once the moonlight hits the sky, she goes away to her favorite place, where I can't see what's underneath.
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "Love And Liberation," the new recording by singer Jazzmeia Horn. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR my guest will be Tan France, the fashion expert on the Netflix series "Queer Eye." When the show won an Emmy, he told the Academy, I never expected a Pakistani boy would be winning an Emmy for being on a show about being openly gay. He was raised in a traditional Muslim family in England. His husband was raised in a Mormon family on a ranch in Utah. I hope you'll join us. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SULLIVAN FORTNER'S "PHOEBE'S SAMBA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.