BWW Reviews: This Lady Really Sings the Blues - Lauren Robert Rocks the Iridium

By: Aug. 08, 2012
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By Stephen Hanks

The start of Lauren Robert's recent show (August 7) at Iridium Jazz Club was flavored with some delicious irony. Instead of taking the stage from the side dressing room, Robert decided to enter through the audience and delivered her opening number holding a hand microphone. Only the mic wasn't as prepared as the singer was, likely making it the first time in Robert's career that her powerhouse voice couldn't be heard over the din of an audience and the sounds of a band.

But like the pro she is (Robert has performed all over the country and was once the lead singer in Smokin' Joe Frazier's Las Vegas Review), the veteran blues and R&B singer gamely pressed on. Once that mic glitch was solved, Robert grabbed the show by the scruff of the neck and never let it go. Throughout a 12-song set, including four originals from her new 15-song solo CD, Listen, I Mean It, Robert gave her musical testimony through an intense interpretation of some classic blues, gospel and rock songs. She meant it. And everyone gladly listened.

Wearing all black from blouse to boots-the blonde, blue-eyed soul/blues singer opened with "Look Out Love" (the lead song of her new CD-look for a review next week), a hard-driving, dance-inducing rocker that is positively Tina Turner-esque, and which featured solid support from Robert's background singers Carolee Goodgold and Keith Fruitt. Robert then segued into revealing her vintage blues ballad chops on "Crazy He Calls Me," the Carl Sigman/Bob Russell hit recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946. Her Musical Director and pianist, the "Maestro" Barry Levitt, looking spiffy in a shiny silver suit, excelled on his mid-song piano riff but the number would have been even more effective unplugged and without the backing guitars. But strummer Ira Siegal and bass guitarist Jeff Ganz were very necessary and quite terrific on "It's Gonna Be Alright," Robert's powerful, soulful, and gospel-tinged original off the CD. (Chris Parker on drums and Roger Squitero on percussion were also fine on this song and throughout the show.)

Robert kept herself and the Iridium rocking on Stix Hooper/Will Jennings' "Never Make Your Move Too Soon," a blues which has been delivered by everyone from Ernestine Anderson to B.B. King to The Captain & Tenille, but rarely with Roberts' kind of pulsating passion. By the time she hit song five, the power ballad "This Dream" (from the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd), Robert was drenched in the kind of sweat that drips through the microphone and reveals her soul. This was no more evident than on the next two original cuts from her CD, the R&B laced "My Body Said Yes" and the jazzy, languid lounge number "Don't Kiss Me" (from Robert's original musical 22-Caliber Mouth), songs about resisting seduction and questioning relationship decisions. When Robert sings her self-revealing lyric, "Don't kiss me/Here's where you shouldn't go/I can't risk the shame of this dangerous game/So my answer is no," you know this is coming from a woman who has lived every word-and likely more than once.

The surprise of the set had to be Robert's bluesy, hard-edged yet unabrasive arrangement (embellished by Levitt) of Paul McCartney's "Blackbird," where instead of the broken-winged animal being sweetly encouraged to fly, Robert Is exhorting it to get off its sorry ass and soar. Then Robert and the band really took wing on "Sufferin' With the Blues," the 1956 Little Willie John Ballad that has been covered by the likes of James Brown and Tina Turner, and if Lauren Robert isn't a hybrid of those two legendary singers, nobody is. I'd gladly suffer listening to this woman sing the blues any day, and by the time Robert finished her fabulous, peeling-the wallpaper vocal on Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" to a standing ovation, I knew I wasn't the only one. Some other club-perhaps even Iridium again-should book this soulful force of nature for another show . . . and soon.


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