BWW Review: Long-Legged LYNDA CARTER is a 'Wonder' As a Singer in Jazz at Lincoln Center Concert
The twilight view of Central Park in all its springtime lushness set a perfect mood for Lynda Carter's show Long Legged Woman last Saturday night (April 23) at the Appel Room, which ran for two nights as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series. With her all-star Nashville crew, whose members have between them played on hundreds of albums (including dozens of gold records), the star best known for her iconic TV portrayal of "Wonder Woman" performed an ambitious set covering six musical genres: pop, rock, country, Texas swing, jazz, and blues.
Carter is an accomplished, disciplined singer with an impressive list of credits (since returning to performance in 2006 after she quit music to raise children), including her critically-acclaimed performance in the 2006 London production of Chicago, and numerous appearances at major national venues with luminaries such as Ben Vereen, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones, and Ray Charles. She's also now an award-winning composer of music for video games. But even in Manhattan amongst the Broadway and cabaret set, an astonishing number of people have no idea the longtime face of Maybelline sings, not even in a dilettantish way.
While her patter is somewhat mundane--she's no standup comedian (by her own endearing and self-deprecating admission)--Carter takes obvious pleasure in performing many of her favorite songs for an audience of devoted fans. As striking as her physical beauty is Carter's immense and unusual generosity toward the A-List instrumentalists who help her deliver this entertaining and at times surprising performance.
After the "safe bet" opening, "Old Time Rock 'n Roll" (Bob Seger), and the soulful "Take Me to the River" (Al Green/Mabon Hodges), Carter pauses to impress upon the audience just how major these musicians are. As she moves through the remaining 20 songs, the performer talks about each musician. Having just attended a performance in which a producer mechanically listed the band member's credits, I appreciate the organic and heartfelt manner in which Carter integrated who the musicians are with what they play.
Before a stunning "Spanish Harlem" (Jerry Leiber/Phil Spector), Carter introduced her guitarist Dave Cleveland. Among the most sought-after guitarists in Nashville for more than two decades (with 30,000 songs under his belt), Cleveland made the move to mainstream rock and, Carter observed, he's no longer welcome in his old genre. A joke surely, but also an indication of the camaraderie that characterized the star's relationship with her band mates. Cleveland's gentle, lilting acoustic guitar and saxophonist Sam Levine's flute melded beautifully with Carter's vocals. With 19 recordings to his credit, most recently Sax in the City, Levine exudes mastery whether on the sax, flute, or clarinet.
Shifting gears to what she calls "the other side of me," the performer settled into "Mercy" (Duffy) and "Crazy" (Patsy Cline), both of which showcased the tremendous talent of bass player Danny O'Lannerghty, aka "Mr Clean" due to a notable absence of hair. The studio veteran has played with artists as diverse as Cece Winans, Matchbox 20, and Vince Gill. Carter has surprising vocal range, but she's at her most expressive in the lower registers, particularly when crooning about romantic disappointment. This is not a reflection of her relationship with successful law partner and video game entrepreneur Robert Altman, but rather her childhood in Arizona largely spent listening to music with her mother, who was partial to songs about pain.
"You've Changed" (Billie Holliday), Carter's biggest artistic risk of the night, paid off in part due to a sensitive arrangement by her consummate pianist Larry Hall. The naked ballad is tough to pull off, but when Wonder Woman puts her mind to something, she succeeds oftener than she fails. The jazz interlude set up one of the evening's highlights, a duet with Carter's predictably beautiful (and also long-legged!) daughter Jessie, a University of Michigan Law student who flew in during finals to perform the Everly Brothers hit, "Dream, Dream, Dream."
The proud mama introduced Jessie, who is at the top of her class at the competitive first-tier school, with a faint twinge of sadness that her baby girl hadn't pursued singing as a career. After the duet, one could see why. Carter is a solid and versatile singer, but Jessie's voice is truly transcendent. To judge by the mid-show standing ovation, the audience was quite taken with the young woman Carter calls her "Mini-Me."
The remainder of the set was enjoyable, with Carter launching into her recent work on video games. Recognizing that most of this crowd--this critic included--was indifferent, if not hostile, to video games, the star delivered a little sermon about how sophisticated, interesting, and lucrative games have become. "And," she joked, as if to coax us not to be such darn snobs, "They provide us with a whole lot of work!"
The drum solo near the end of the show was positively thrilling. Percussionist Glenn Caruba works both in the studio and on movies, commercials, and TV shows. The author of multiple books about the art of percussion, including Afro-Cuban Drumming, his jam with the incomparable Paul Leim, an eight-time Academy of Country Music Drummer of the Year nominee, could not but leave one in awe. Tania Hancheroff, Kira Small, and Cindy Richardson, all successful studio vocalists who have collectively worked with the biggest rock, pop, and country stars in the industry, made an invaluable contribution to Carter's set.