Helane Blumfield has an appealing alto with throaty bass shadows. Feeling seems welcomely unfiltered. Bobby Peaco plays with authority. Arrangements are saturated. The spacey “Just Dropped In” to see what condition my condition is in… (The First Edition) sets the tone of an eclectic selection of songs almost all on the dark side – apt at a time of universal grappling.
Maybe next time he’ll think “Before He Cheats” (Josh Kear/Chris Thompson) is a terrific revenge-in-love song. One senses Blumfield’s anger. Knees bend as if the wind’s knocked out of her. Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day” might just as well have been written for Ukraine as Bosnia: “I’ve wept for those who’ve suffered long/How I’ve wept for those who’ve gone…” Blumfield’s phrasing is incantory. Voices meld.
“Because the Night” (Bruce Springsteen/Patti Smith) arrives in a juicy arrangement that begins slow and quiet, then conflates. That Blumfield doesn’t turn to Peaco when she sings works to cinematically set each character on her/his own turf until they come together. We can almost see them travel. “Don Juan” (Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller) is unabashedly mercenary, performed with jaded greed.
Highlights include several duet combos. “Too Darn Hot” (Cole Porter) and “Your Heart is As Black As Night” (Melody Gardot) present a contrast scenario, his indifference, her trepidation.: “Cause your hands may be strong/But the feelings are all wrong/Your heart is as black as night…” Blumfield’s focus is sustained even as Peaco sings. Harmony is effectively trenchant.
“Take Me to Church” (Andrew Hozier-Bryne) and “Holly Holy” (Neil Diamond) pair as if married. The first is complex, poetic: “Every Sunday’s getting more bleak/A fresh poison each week/We were born sick/ You heard them say it…”, the other repeating entreaty. Vibrations get under one’s skin. An almost gospel duet of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” leads to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (Billy Joe Armstrong) with “Wonderful World” (Bobby Thiele/George David Weiss), another creative coupling and excellent arrangement. The songs paint juxtaposition of isolation and hope, familiar territory.
Exceptions to overall mood are Peaco’s “Don’t Worry Me” (Keith Carradine) and “New Orleans Louisiana Blues” (Dawn Hampton/Bobby Peaco). The first gently swings like a hammock, the second decidedly sashays. Both offer respite. Only Chris Smithers’ “Love Me Like a Man” and Randy Newman’s “Keep Your Hat On” don’t gell.
The show is earthy, sometimes raw, tucking into emotion with glee.
Lennie Watts’ direction is top notch. Blumfield’s attitude, movement, focus and phrasing reflect the material.
Top photo courtesy of the performers. Interior photo – Jeff Harnar
Me and Bobby P: Helane Blumfield and Bobby Peaco
Directed by Lennie Watts
Don’t Tell Mama
343 W 46th St