And you can tell everybody this is your song/It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done/
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words/How wonderful life is now you’re in the world…(Bernie Taupin/Elton John- the only showcased collaborators)
Opening with “Your Song”, creator/host Stephen Hanks aptly suggests its lyrics express the collective sentiments of what was considered “the golden age of singer/songwriters.”
This lively, well produced evening features the work of Carole King, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Carly Simon and Elton John, plus a single entry by Don McLean. Unlike hosts who put together a show in order to occupy the spotlight, Hanks introduces each artist with a brief, well written reminder of origin and reputation, then discreetly steps aside to let six distinctly different vocalists shine. Highlights:
Carole J. Bufford offers a pugnacious, authoritative rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” with what sounds like a southern accent supported by textural, insinuating piano. It’s as jazz-oriented as I’ve heard her and works. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is almost blues, starting slow with phrases first squeezed out, then let fly like trained Frisbees. The song can be heard outside of common over-production.
Natalie Douglas sings Paul Simon’s “American Tune” prayerfully, as if exhausted by protest. Her version of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is artfully restrained even when it swells. Repetition of melody and lyric go undiminished, each time sounding committed, sincere. Hands by her sides (no distractions), Douglas plows emotion into highly controlled expression.
The eclectic “Furry Sings the Blues” (Joni Mitchell) is a wow in the hands of Lauren Fox. Ever reminding us she’s an actress, Fox makes us see the scenario. With a lyric that straddles poetry and prose, the song is a vocal challenge. Expert phrasing and dark, lush musical arrangement bring it to life. A duet of “Sweet Seasons” with Douglas is happy and fluid with appealing harmony.
“The Right Thing To Do” is Meg Flather’s declaratory best. Octave changes skate with experienced finesse. The unfussy, alto version is pristine and powerful. For a moment, I close my eyes to simply let it wash over me. The largely unknown “In France” (Joni Mitchell) is emphatic, exhilarated. Flather wrangles poetry into melody. Piano is sassy.
Carole King’s first hit, “Will You still Love Me Tomorrow?” is held fast by the shoulders in Laurie Krauz’ interpretation. Rock becomes pithy and balladic. She really wants to know. “Mockingbird”, in duet with Jon Weber, is terrific fun despite being a bit ragged. Both musicians riff with great spirit.
Barbara Porteus makes “Still Crazy After All These Years” feel conversational, which is truly the way Paul Simon writes. Porteus slides easily from signature vocals at the back of her throat to a more open sounding chorus. She inhabits the song even during music breaks holding us fast. In direct contrast, “Superstition” emerges staccato with evocatively stressed ssss. She dips, tilts, and promenades, bluesy and witchy, infectiously IN it.
Host Stephen Hanks closes with an anecdote about visiting The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam only to discover the painting he most wanted to see is in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “Vincent” has a sweetness.
Jon Weber’s eloquent fingers dazzle. Skip Ward keeps rhythmic ballast.
A highly successful presentation.
Photos By Maryann Lopinto
Opening: The Company
Carole G. Bufford, Natalie Douglas
Lauren Fox, Meg Flather
Laurie Krauz, Barbara Porteus
Salute to Singer/Songwriters of the Seventies
Urban Stages Winter Rhythms Festival December 13, 2014
Created and Hosted by Stephen Hanks
Vocalists: Carole J. Bufford, Natalie Douglas, Lauren Fox, Laurie Krauz, Barbara Porteus, Meg Flather, Stephen Hanks
Musical Director/Piano-Jon Weber; Skip Ward-Bass Guitar
Urban Stages 259 West 30th St.
Click for Venue Calendar