Sue Conway | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Local vocalist Sue Conway is a well-respected gospel singer both here and abroad--her Victory Singers performed at La Scala in Milan in 1999--but she's also carved a niche for herself as a versatile pop-jazz stylist. On her sole full-length, an eponymous disc she put out herself in 2004, she wraps her smoky alto around standards like "Nature Boy" and "The Look of Love" as well as more contemporary tunes like Harry Connick Jr.'s "(I Could Only) Whisper Your Name." Her delivery can be a bit stiff: she often hits phrases head-on rather than sliding into or over them the way a seasoned jazz vocalist would. But she makes up for it with her broad tonal palette, using effortless interval leaps and subtle timbral shadings to mine deep emotion from the ballads, and on "Pennies From Heaven" she navigates the song's rhythmic challenges with the dexterity and joy of a schoolgirl playing hopscotch. But the album's finest moment is its most improbable: evoking Betty Carter's tubular-toned ascents and elastic phrasing, she transforms the Carpenters' "Superstar" from a teen-dream mewl to a grown woman's meditation on heartbreak and obsession. Sat 6/17, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $15.

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