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Isabel Rose, “Trouble in Paradise,” (and live at the Stephen Talkhouse)
Junior Brown at City Winery.
Emore Leonard, Library of America
It’s hard to know exactly wha to make of Isabel Rose. Her promotional material asks “What happens when you toss Katy Perry, Ann-Margret and Bette Midler into a blender?” with the answer being Ms. Rose. I dunno. I love Ms. Margaret; can go either way on Midler and got off the bus long before Katy Perry got on. I do really like Rose though. Her cd, “Trouble in Paradise,” is a unique mixture of styles that do not always coalesce comfortably, but emerge in the end as a thorougly charming experience.
One thing I really (really) like about Rose is her willingness to stretch not only the conventions of cabaret style performance, but also the so-called “Great American Songbook,” which is undoubtedly great, but definitely needs extending beyond the pre-“Yesterday” era. Produced by Bob Rock and back by a big Vegasy orchestra, she breathes new life into some wonderful songs that you may not have remembered that you love. Among my favorites are:
Lot of Livin’ To Do
Things We Do For Love *
Love Will Keep Us Together *
She closed her spirited set at the Talkhouse (in Amagansett) with that shlocky song and like most of the set, it was also pretty wonderful. Rose changed her glamorous outfits as often as Diana Ross, had a biggish band and back up singers who shimmied with her and played straight-woman to her double and triple-entendres. The place was packed—so packed that my seats were given away, alas—which surprised me, since the cd wasn’t even released yet, but her familiarity with the crowd gave the evening the feel of a strangely sexy bat-mitzvah—albeit with a killer band and an unforgettable chick singer. More about the lady and her music here.
The night before I took in an old friend, Junior Brown, at City Winery. I often think that the best thing about Texas is the way it travels east, though it’s also the worst thing about it. Anyway, Brown is very much a Texan, but the funny, open-minded laugh-at-himself kind. While not as funny (or as Jewish) as Kinky Friedman, he’s an incredible musician and his four-piece band (with his wife Tanya Rae on acoustic rhythm and a guy banging on just a single snare drum and occasionally one cymbal) he makes music that sounds twice as large as that. The songs are almost all funny and clever and usually danceable in a Texas by way of Hawaii kind of way. (A crowd favorite every time I’ve seen him has been “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead.”) Brown plays his patented “Guit-Steel”, a double-necked guitar combining standard guitar with steel guitar, allowing him to switch instruments quickly in mid-song while singing and gives his songs a sound that belongs only to him. Catch him if you can. Shows coming up at the City Winery, whether in the city, Chicago, Nashville or Napa, can be found here.