December 2007 back
Raul Malo: December 12th at Highline Ballroom
Before Raul sang a note, a fan thanked him for coming back to New York to which he responded "Oh, I'll always be coming back because, believe me, I have absolutely no other marketable skills". One good laugh later, the band broke into the title cut from Raul's new Christmas CD "Marshmallow World" and so began the Christmas show that was so much more than a Christmas show.
After several more holiday songs including Jingle Bells and a moving Silent Night, the show shifted gears with Raul's cover of J.D. Souther's You're Only Lonely. From that point on, the set list was so beautifully diverse that there was no guessing what could come next. The mix included, among others, a handful of original tunes (Every Little Thing, I Said I Love You, Dance The Night Away...) and Latin hits Siboney, a Cuban bolero written by Cuba's most accomplished composer Ernesto Lecuona, and Quien Sera (Sway With Me) a mega hit first made famous by Mexican singer Lola Beltran (Lola LaGrande). If you don't think you know that song, you're mistaken. (Siboney)
Other covers included Van Morrison (Bright Side Of The Road), Buck Owens (Crying Time), Roy Orbison (Crying) and a medley of Louis Armstrong (When The Saints...), Hank Williams (Cold Cold Heart) and Dwight Yoakam (It Only Hurts Me When I Cry). Raul's beautifully romantic voice is one of the best on the planet and apparently perfectly suited for crying songs.
The New Orleans style trumpet from the Saints portion of the medley continued into Cold Cold Heart, as did the honky-tonk piano, turning the song into a danceable party tune which wasn't exactly what Hank had in mind, but it sure was fun!
Toward the end of the show, he went back to the holiday theme playing a great bluesy version of Elvis Presley's Blue Christmas and finished the show by performing Jose Feliciano's Feliz Navidad while the previously seated audience stood and danced their approval. His three boys joined him on stage for the finale adding a degree or two to the holiday warmth.
To say that I loved this show is an understatement. The fact is I can't stop thinking about it as a variety of songs have continued to flow through my head for two days now. If you're not familiar with this artist, I strongly recommend that you remedy that situation. The next time he's in New York, I'll be there. I'll be the tall guy with the camera.
Marie Zamora: December 10th at Joe's Pub
I took a chance on this show because the premise was intriguing. French singer and actress Marie Zamora, best known as Cosette in the French version of Les Miz, put together a show called "Suite Francaise" featuring her favorite French songs spanning from Bizet, Poulenc and Faure to Edith Piaf and Michel Legrand. Backed by accordion, piano and cello, and a set adorned with original paintings by Alex Echo, the idea was to bring a French salon to downtown New York.
There were lots of familiar songs including The Windmills Of Your Mind and La Vie en Rose as well as tunes from Carmen and Le Miz, but the concept ended up being better than the reality. I could go into specific details as to why it didn't work for me, which would be my job if I worked for a paper, but I think I'll just leave it with "It wasn't my cup of tea". Happy Holidays.
Vienna Teng: December 6th at Blender Theater (Christina Courtin opening)
I first saw Vienna Teng in 2004 as the opening act for Marc Cohn. Judy and I were so impressed that we went to see her again a week later at Joe's Pub. This was my third time seeing her since then, which should tell you something about how I feel about this artist. I also own all three of her CD's and listen to them regularly. She's a talented song writer and an impressive pianist and vocalist.
Her music, which she describes as "chamber folk" adds influences of classical music to folk, pop and jazz styles. This was the first time I saw her as a quartet, the previous shows were solo, duo and trio, and this was also probably my favorite performance of the bunch. Of course, the most recent experience always has an advantage over previous experiences.
The show was dominated by songs from her most recent release Dreaming Thru The Noise including Blue Caravan, I Don't Feel So Well and the Dolly Parton inspired City Hall. Some tunes from the previous CD's included Gravity, Unwritten Letter #1, Hope On Fire, Harbour and a few others. (City Hall)
Vienna has a warm and unassuming stage presence which is a big part of what makes her shows so enjoyable. She told stories about the origins of some songs, her move this year to New York and how excited she was to call her friends in San Francisco and exclaim "It's snowing where I live!" After talking about how totally obsessed she is with the new Radiohead release, she performed Idioteque from their "Kid A" album, her only cover of the evening.
The enthusiastic crowd of about 400 was the largest I've seen when she was headlining. With almost no radio exposure in New York, it seems she's on her way to a successful career on the strength of "word of mouth" and pure talent. One certainty is that this won't be the last time you find me at one of her shows.
Christina Courtin opened the show and managed to completely engage me for her entire set, a very rare accomplishment for an opening act. Her girlish voice took some getting used to, but she's a vocal daredevil who occasionally brought Bjork to mind. Her songs were an eclectic mix of catchy pop, driving rock, reggae, country and melodic ballads. I wouldn't go as far as to say she moved me as much as the first time I saw Vienna, but she's definitely an artist worth keeping an eye on.
Her drummer gets my nomination for best hair in show biz. I mean that as a compliment. It was actually fun to watch his hair which at times seemed to be doing it's own little dance. What's also funny is that after seeing a great set by one of my favorite artists, the song I can't get out of my head is the catchy Foreign Country by Christina Courtin.
Before the show I had a lengthy chat with singer songwriter David Poe who's another favorite of mine and who has appeared on these pages several times. He's currently working on a project with Duncan Sheik (songwriter for Spring Awakenings) which you'll likely hear more about that from me later.