BWW Review: Alexa Ray Joel at Cafe Carlyle
Alexa Ray Joel's performance at Café Carlyle deserves the kind of praise that accurately represents her performance, and yet I feel like too often even deservedly high praise can appear as hyperbole. In incredibly clear reality to those who came out to see her perform, Joel's maturing sound and confidence in her style as a singer are simply everything that one can ask out of a performer. She pushed herself vocally; she demonstrated incredible range; she shared well-crafted original songs; and the crowd ultimately begged her back for an encore. Did she really need all that convincing? Maybe not. But if any skeptics of Joel remain, I hope that she does release a new CD that showcases just how apt a comparison to Amy Winehouse truly is.
Despite having an exciting and well-placed opening number as well as one of the best closing numbers to a show anyone could select (not including the encore), there were four or five songs in the heart of her show that especially exemplify Joel's strength as a performer. The first of these was "Ruler of My Heart" (Allan Toussaint) where I think Joel's audience was confronted with the fact that Joel is no longer the girl that performed on her original "Sketches" CD. She showcased the depth of emotion and incredible depth of her voice throughout the song on lines dripping with sweet anguish like, "My heart cries out, pain inside/where can you be, I wait patiently."
Turning back the clock, she returned to that first CD with a version of her "Song of Yesterday" that resonated full of powerful emotion more so than ever as the nostalgia of the lyrics meshed well with the nostalgic tone and style of her voice. Beautifully, she sang, "It took a couple years to figure out that the songs I like to play are often not the songs you hear about on the radio today/this ain't the way it ought to be," exemplifying the modern torch singer in a unique way (rather for a different time than a lost love).
She followed up that number with the original, "Far Away," which was a purely magical song where Joel took to the piano and sang about her happy place. Though as a self-described late bloomer, Joel has become the woman that many likely imagined she could be. With complexity in double meanings and the incredible depth to her voice, the lyrics, "Well I'm not sure about tomorrow, but I know about today/ the only thing that feels right is to close my eyes and play" captured a range of both melancholic and exuberant emotion.
However, the theme of the night wasn't always Joel's lament, and despite the "torch singer" nature of many of her songs including another of my favorites, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (made famous by Nina Simone; Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell, and Sol Marcus), she always had a smile on her face. And to represent that positive emotion, she added upbeat, up-tempo numbers such as "Why Should I Worry" (Dan Hartman, Charlie Midnight) from the Disney movie, Oliver and Company, which was originally sung by Billy Joel, her father.
And although the show wasn't laced with tributes to Billy Joel, when she and pianist, Carmine Giglio, were called back up by an adoring audience, she paid Billy and New York the ultimate tribute with a stirring, "New York State of Mind." Bravo!