JULIE DEXTER

"Dexterity"

Ketch a Vibe

Had it up to here with contemporary R&B albums overstuffed with featherweight romantic ballads and monotonous backbeats? Apparently, British-born singer Julie Dexter has. Her latest CD is a breath of fresh air -- and a bracing one at that.

It's also something of a rarity: an R&B album that can be recommended to jazz fans who have little interest in current pop trends. And that's not merely because Dexter -- a Birmingham-born vocalist with Jamaican roots -- incorporates Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" into her song "God Bless the Dub," imaginatively rearranging the ballad until the new song emerges. Nor is it simply because Dexter's voice, a warm and sensuous alto, sometimes evokes images of Holiday, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and other singers with strong jazz sensibilities.

As much as anything else, it's the songwriting on "Dexterity" that sets Dexter apart from present-day competition. She's far more interested in speaking her mind than whispering sweet nothings, whether giving "props to my people" on the autobiographical and infectiously arranged "Faith," tapping into a sorrowful blues vein on "How Can You Feel" or alluding to the Pharoah Sanders/Leon Thomas inspirational refrain "The Creator Has a Master Plan" on "Walk With Me." All the while, Dexter's luxurious voice weaves its way through an unusually colorful series of genre-blending, horn-augmented arrangements, casting a few spells along the way.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday and Saturday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Julie Dexter, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)