Picks and Pans Review: Salt

updated 07/28/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Lizz Wright (Verve)

Wright, a 23-year-old gospel-bred contralto, is one of the year's most intriguing new voices. Discovered four years ago at an Atlanta jazz-fest, the Georgia native is a slender, soulful charmer whose sound—part Oleta Adams, part Cassandra Wilson—can achieve a burnished heat or a full, rounded elegance. Like Grammy-winning Norah Jones's Come Away with Me, Wright's cross-genre debut is a calculated effort of marketing and all-star jazz backup (that's pianist Danilo Perez on "Afro Blue"). The CD's dozen mostly midtempo tracks range from "Soon As I Get Home," the Stephanie Mills showstopper from The Wiz, to a spiritual and five original songs written by Wright (including the bluesy title number). The results are impressive if uneven, though Wright's resonant voice is always stunning. Salt is an engaging beginning, and Wright is sure to improve as she adds other seasonings.

BOTTOM LINE: Tasty starter

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