"The sound is good !" shouted one audience member during Everything but the Girl's show Monday at the Beverly Theatre.
That sound quality alone made this show infinitely superior to the English group's local debut last year at the Palace, where Tracey Thorn's throaty vocals were completely lost in a horrible mix.
This time, every note of the lovely, plaintive melodies composed by Thorn and partner Ben Watt came through loud and clear.
A second plus Monday was the new material from the excellent recent album "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright," which mixes the feelings of torchy jazz balladry and Patsy Cline country.
In fact, an unknowing listener could very well have assumed that such originals as the album's title song and "Don't Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart"--each presented Monday in gorgeous acoustic renditions--actually \o7 were\f7 vintage standards.
Further bonuses came in Watt's seemingly bizzare, but quite effective choices of outside material for his turns as lead vocalist: Jimmy Webb's (via Glen Campbell) "Where's the Playground, Susie," Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind" and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."
Missed, though, were the distinctively lush string arrangements of the LP. Live, with just basic jazzy backing, the band doesn't stand too far out in the crowded field it shares with the likes of Style Council, Simply Red and Sade.
Also largely absent was the political nature of much of the group's past work, which took a back seat to the tales of lost love that dominate the new songs.
One final plus: opening act Marti Jones, who opened last year's show accompanied just by producer/songwriter Don Dixon, this time had a four-man band to give a boost to her rich voice and the solid, tuneful pop songs drawn from her two albums.