The former Squirrel Nut Zippers vocalist trades in her cabaret for lounge on Dirty Little Secret, distancing herself from the old-fashioned jump blues and jazz swing of her old outfit. While Whalen's wonderful voice would be winning in just about any band, David Sale's rich, varied production transposes it into exotic mixes that sound like space-age bachelor pad music.
The curtain-raiser, "The Funnest Game," sets the tone with '60s-spy-music guitar and bossa nova horns slinking over skittering percussion, all while Whalen coos her tale of betrayal. The album's highlight is the title track, a rootsy Ricki Lee Jones-style confessional sprinkled with Herb Alpert horns and a touch of mainstream piano pop. Whalen is the key, as she demonstrates with her particularly nice turn on the soul-inflected "You-Who." The cover of a song by Sale's old San Diego band, Camus, mines the infectious dance bounce of Aretha's "Who's Zooming Who?"
Sale plays piano and some guitar, but most of the arrangements are samples and assemblages. Not that you'd notice, because much like Four Tet's Kieran Hebden, Sale ensures that it sounds seamlessly organic. He occasionally sabotages himself (the distracting house beat underscoring the Latin jazz of "Three Blind Mice"), but at a party this crazy, something's bound to break.