Little Bit of Soul, Little Bit of Pop
The Green Room 42, NYC, June 15, 2019
Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes
Reed is one of those high-octane performers whose assertive stage presence and incredible command of her voice and music transcend what’s normally possible on stage. From the first moment of the first song, whether she had whispered or screamed in a high-pitched wail, she would have drawn the audience into her spell. When early in her show she sang “I Put a Spell on You” (Jay Hawkins), I can say that all of the above was undoubtedly true. The best reaction to each song in her raging tornado of excitement: Wow.
Each song came so quickly and was so captivating that I barely had time to think as she guided us through songs and stories. She put a theme to her material by dividing the show into sections. She called her third through fifth songs the “Trilogy of Love” and the sixth through eighth song, her “Trilogy of ‘Do Me Wrong.’” This convention was fun and made the show a fast-paced thrill ride.
In the “Trilogies,” “How Sweet It Is” (Holland-Dozier-Holland) was my favorite, featuring the line, “I’m still in love with you inside my mind.” In the second trilogy, “Slam Bam” (Vivian Reed/Helen Bank/Jacob Wheeler) was probably the most exciting moment of the show as she entreated the audience to share in the revelry with emphatic shouts of “This ain’t a slam-bam thank you mam.”
Underlying the whole show was the message of remaining resolutely positive. She told the audience through song to “Shout Out (Stand Up) and Be Counted” (Reed), and through story telling imparted the wisdom that the soul needs nurturing. Her performance, presence, and impeccable timing make her easily one of the top acts that I’ve had the pleasure to see. She left us with an uplifting feeling, singing the classics “Let it Be Me” (Gilbert Bécaud/Manny Curtis/Pierre Delanoe) and “God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog, Jr.).
Joining her on stage were pianist, James Davis, who is one of the best—if not the best—pianist I’ve heard in cabaret. In his capable hands, the piano became an instrument of electrifying energy, zapping the crowd into frenzy. Davis led an ensemble that seamlessly supported Reed: bassist John Gray, drummer Damon Duewhite, keyboardist Ray Naccari, and saxophonist Henry Young. Background vocals were provided by Emily Bennett, Julie Gusse, and Lillie Ellars. Also deserving mention is Samantha John, who added lyrical intensity and a beautiful depth of range to a stunning duet with Reed on “Blues for Two Women,” by Duke Ellington, which focused on a more classical vocal style.