After two shows featuring women songwriters, Lucille Carr-Kaffashan takes an eclectic look at male counterparts. For those of you unfamiliar with the artist’s taste, this is not American Songbook. Despite double-distilled-thinking-lady persona, Carr- Kaffashan delivers a selection of often eclectic contemporary material, dropping gs and broadening to southern enunciation when apt. The maddening thing about this intriguing show is hardly sharing WHY she chose these songs.
“…all of me loves all of you/Loves your curves and all your edges/All your perfect imperfections…” Carr-Kaffashan sings with bright alto. “…cause I give you all… ll…ll… l of me…” she continues, keys cascading from the top down. (“All of Me”-John Legend) “When was the last time/You did something for the first time?…” she challenges. (“For the First Time”- (Darius Rucker/ Derek George/Scooter Carusoe)
“The men in our society are often taught to repress their emotions…not singer-songwriters. This song pretty much says it all” introduces “So I Sang” (Timothy James/Darius Rucker/ Rivers Rutherford). Bassman Matt Scharfglass switches to upright from guitar, providing ballast. Sean Harkness shows purposeful finesse.
Carr-Kaffashan leans lightly against the piano. Lyric is reflective with just the right pauses, as if holding onto ideas. “I couldn’t think of anything to say,” eyes close, head turns, “so I sang.” There’s just a touch of yodel in her octave shift.
A tandem “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees-Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb) and “Dancing in the Dark” (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band) follows, surfing Jeff Cubeta’s helix-shaped piano chords. The arrangement is unexpected, immensely effective; raw. As if hypnotized, Carr-Kaffashan barely moves or looks at us.
“Billy Joel and I have the East End of Long Island in common.” Here she shares a few thoughts about men whose work and lives are “deeply tied.” “Downeaster Alexa” blows in with meaty musical force. Harkness’ guitar bears a touch of the Spanish. Not until the last “Yeah yeah yeah oh” do we see emotional investment from the vocalist, however. Even when Carr-Kaffashan does look around during performance, she rarely seems to expose herself.
“Father and Son” (Cat Stevens) and “The Living Years” (B.A. Robertson/Mike Rutherford-Mike and The Mechanics) are prefaced with an anecdote about unnervingly seeing her father cry when his father died. Taking the microphone off its stand, she leans in. Cubeta adds evocative vocal back-up. The end sounds like prayer.
A welcome “up” song (the show could use another of these), “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” is infectious fun. (Willie Nelson/ Ed Bruce, Patsy Bruce, Waylon Jennings) Rhythmic bass accompaniment is very cool; Guitar expression a wry twang. Carr-Kaffashan’s face is animated, she moves around a bit- pointing warning. We’re involved.
Michael Jason Isbell’s “If We Were Vampires,” Ian Denis Archer/James Michael Bay’s “Hold Back the River,” and John Ondrasik’s “100 Years” combine to create a philosophical scenario. Storytelling moves from “If we were vampires and death was a joke/We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke/And laugh at all the lovers and their plans…” to “I’m ninety nine for a moment/Dying for just another moment…Fifteen there’s still time for you…” The last song tiptoes out. Did I mention these are fascinating selections?
Step/pause, step/pause piano ushers in “Anthem” (Leonard Cohen). Hands clasped, at her sides, or once, rising up, elbows bent, palms out, then fisted, Carr-Kaffashan intones lyrics with Cubeta’s textured harmony. Here’s the title source: “Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) /That’s how the light gets in…” It’s ceremonial. We close sincerely with Billy Joel’s sincere So It Goes” and “River of Dreams.”
Lucille Carr-Kaffashan has a beautifully controlled, thoroughly appealing voice. Phrasing is excellent, show content ruminative, surprising, and often freshly presented. The performer’s engaging mind is omnipresent. Until this is also true of emotions, however, potential remains frustratingly untapped. I look forward with interest to the next offering with appreciation and curiosity.
Photos by Takako Harkness
Lucille Carr-Kaffashan: How the Light Gets In
Exploring the work of male singer-songwriters who give voice to the
challenges and meanings of men’s lives
Jeff Cubeta- MD/Piano/Vocals
Sean Harkness-Guitar; Matt Scharfglass- Bass
Don’t Tell Mama
343 West 46th Street