NOW, HOW can you dislike someone named "Pinky?"

Pinky Winters' "Let's Be Buddies" marks the resurfacing of a rare talent. Winters released two records in the '60s, then married and retired from the cabaret and jazz club circuit. But now she's back, and even better, accompanied by jazz pianist nonpareil Lou Levy, who has backed Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and other luminaries. The "less-is-more" approach shared by singer and pianist enhances this cheering collection of neglected classics.

Winters is an intimate and informal singer, with an airbrushed contralto that sounds as swell in daylight as it does after dark. Knowing that songs like Hoagy Carmichael's "One Morning in May" and Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else But Me" don't require any embellishment, Winters just sings them straight, with nimble wit and a relaxed intensity.

She restores some rarities, like Harold Rome's delightful album-opener "Along With Me," and Cole Porter's wry "Let's Be Buddies"; and she can also take a song that is forever identified with another singer -- like "The Trolley Song" -- and win it for herself.

Levy provides delicately rhythmic, spry piano foundations for all 13 tracks. He's the ultimate accompanist -- not playing to be noticed, he's just always there when Winters needs him. Monty Budwig's bass bubbles up from under, supporting and propelling the whole beautifully constructed enterprise.

"This will be my shining hour -- calm and happy and bright," begins the LP's final song. Those words, by Harold Arlen, aptly describe Winters' welcome return.


"Let's Be Buddies" (Jacqueline Records JR 0116). Appearing with Lou Levy at Cates through Sept. 20.