Amy Beth Williams’ appreciation of Leonard Cohen emerges in her choice of mostly lesser known, often complex songs earnestly performed. Unlike many vocalists today, she’s aware of what she’s singing/saying.
Appealing renditions of “Bird on a Wire” and “Sisters of Mercy” (starting a capella) with haunting contralto are followed by “Joan of Arc,” the latter showcasing an alto range that fits as if bespoke. Neck and neck with emphatic guitar, she sings: “Then fire, make your body cold/I’m gonna give you mine to hold”/Saying this she climbed inside/To be his one, to be his only bride…”
“Night Comes On” and the story/song “Famous Blue Raincoat” have spoken parts which add resonance. Williams is believable. Candor and conviction serve. “Tonight Will Be Fine” arrives wry: “But I know from your eyes/And I know from your smile/That tonight will be fine/Will be fine, will be fine, will be fine (eyebrows come to a point)/ For a while…” The artist’s timing is perfect.
Subtle emotional modulation also finds its way into “Tower of Song”: “Well, my friends are gone and my hair is gray/ I ache in the places where I used to play…” Williams’ life experience imbues the song with integrity. A recitation of “Listen to the Hummingbird” is very fine. The iconic “Hallelujah” heard endless times, is nonetheless welcome as understated and full of grace.
Williams sounds good, pandemic time off the stage having not diminished control, deft inflection, or musicality. Arrangements are folksy/unfussy which works both ways – sometimes directness lets the song land true, at others one craves interpretation. More interesting and skilled accompaniment could’ve taken this show to another level. As it is, everything sounds too much the same. (Exception: “Dance Me to the End of Love” is here musically abrasive.)
Photo Courtesy of the artist
Amy Beth Williams- Beautiful Mystery: The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Guitar/Violin- John Henry Williams (Ms. Williams’ nephew)
Directed by Tanya Moberly
August 25, 2021
Don’t Tell Mama
343 West 46th Street