AFTER A QUICK GLANCE at the dowdy album jacket and its fawningly cultish liner notes, you might be forgiven for mistaking "Marlene VerPlanck Sings Alec Wilder" as a musical mortuary.

But not so fast; this pairing deserves a listen. The late Wilder was the author of "American Popular Song" and he really knew what he was writing about -- this was a composer as at home with classical music as with dance bands and show tunes.

VerPlanck, a jazz vocalist and sometime jingle singer, brings a simple delicacy of diction and an airy grace to whatever she sings. Here she essays 13 of Wilder's intelligent tunes, and within the yearbook-look jacket is an appealing record.

The collection overlooks Wilder favorites like "Who Can I Turn To?" and "I'll Be Around" to favor such later Wilder as the elegiac "Blackberry Winter"; several of these were co-written with VerPlanck's pianist Loonis McGlohon. But many of these songs are choice as well, notably Wilder's 1956 composition "The Lady Sings the Blues," which was intended for Billie Holiday's last recording session. Unfortunately Holiday couldn't sing that day, but VerPlanck credibly interprets the moving jazz ballad.

The singer's cool, pliable tones mesh comfortably with her trio; the session was arranged and produced by her husband J. "Billy" VerPlanck. If there's a drawback to the record, it's that VerPlanck seems determined to apply a chipper, girlish attitude and an audible smile to every song. It's an approach that suits such carefree gems as "Love Among the Young" and "That's My Guy," but doesn't sit so well on a blue-ish number like Sinatra's "Where Is the One?" MARLENE VERPLANCK --

"Marlene VerPlanck Sings Alec Wilder" (Audiophile AP-218). Appearing nightly except Monday and Tuesday through July 12 at Cate's.