Since she discovered jazz singing and began recording in the mid-90s, French-Beninese singer Mina Agossi has been on an upward trajectory, each album moving on from the one before. She started out accompanied by double bass, and then progressed to bass and drums. To soften that combo's starkness, on recent albums she has added guest musicians on percussion, trumpet and synthesiser.
On Just Like a Lady, her ninth album, Agossi includes harmony instruments for the first time, adding steel pans, keyboards and guitar. From the opening notes of Phil Reptil's acoustic guitar intro to Agossi's own There's a Lull in my Life, these instruments give the band a fuller, more varied sound.
Agossi's voice is more subdued than on some past albums, but remains as expressive as ever. On several tracks, it is in the jazz vocal tradition of Ella or Billie - inflected, effortless and beguiling. Agossi makes jazz singing sound as natural as breathing. But that is not the whole story - she adopts a range of styles to suit her eclectic choice of songs.
The majority of the tracks are Agossi's own distinctive compositions with casual, conversational lyrics that draw listeners into her world. When the title-track opens with "Come and sit next to me", we sit up and take notice. Alongside her own songs lies a selection that includes Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lennon-McCartney, French humorist Boby Lapointe and When the Saints Go Marching In, reinvented in versions that are often barely recognisable.
Waters of March reshapes Jobim's lilting melody into a more bombastic riff-driven approach. The Beatles' And I Love Her becomes a touching duet for voice and bass that harks back to Agossi's earliest recordings. She makes a habit of including a Hendrix song on each of her albums. Here, it is a sparse version of Burning of the Midnight Lamp, including enough traces of the guitarist's vocal delivery to capture the spirit of the original.
Whether singing her own songs or other people's, in English or French, Agossi's greatest achievement is to convey the story of each song in ways that will captivate listeners.