BWW Reviews: What's New? For Sentimental Reasons, Robyn Spangler Delivers Lush Tribute to the Linda Ronstadt-Nelson Riddle Collaboration at the Metropolitan Room
To borrow an analogy from Robyn Spangler, the Los Angeles-based singer (now spending more time in New York) who brought her show Riddle, Ronstadt & Robyn to the Metropolitan Room on Monday, January 12, a dress may be fine off the rack, but when tailored specifically for a particular body, it can uniquely highlight the physical assets of the woman wearing it. Likewise, the artistry of the musical arrangement comes when it wraps a familiar song around an individual's voice and style and allows the song to be heard in a fresh, and hopefully, wonderful way.
The 1980s Great American Songbook collaboration between Linda Ronstadt, the pop/rock singing superstar of the late 1960s-'80s, and the celebrated big band leader/arranger Nelson Riddle (whose heyday came in the 1940s and '50s) produced three of Ronstadt's biggest selling albums: What's New? (1983), Lush Life (1984), and For Sentimental Reasons (1985), the last recorded at the time of Riddle's death at 64 (see video of one of their concerts, below). Riddle was no fan of rock 'n roll and had no idea who Linda Ronstadt was when she approached him about creating arrangements for her interpretation of the Great American Songbook, but his daughter assured him, "Her checks won't bounce." Robyn Spangler's charming show (a follow up to her previous Ronstadt tribute, Why I Love Linda Ronstadt) presents a selection of standards from those Platinum-selling albums, while she also offers the history and context of the Ronstadt/Riddle relationship and illuminates the beauty of the classic recordings.
Although the Ronstadt/Riddle records featured an entire orchestra, Spangler's three-piece band was not too shabby, with Musical Director John D. Randall at the piano, Steve Doyle on upright bass, and Dan Gross on drums. Spangler seemed at bit unsettled at first trying to get her bearings and the show began a bit hesitantly. But by her third number, "Lover Man" (a song most closely associated with Billie Holliday), the nerves had burned off, her voice found it's sweet spot and she connected for the rest of the show. Spangler seemed comfortable leading the band, and her experience as a fourth generation professional musician became evident. Randall's solos were sexy and elegant, Doyle appeared to dance with his instrument, and Gross' brushes were laid back and cool. Spangler related that Nelson Riddle mentored his singers and told the orchestra to breathe with the singer. Spangler and her band were definitely starting to sync up.
"Straighten Up and Fly Right" (Nat King Cole/Irving Mills) was perky with harmonies from Randall and a nifty solo from Doyle. Spangler kept the show moving at a nice pace by placing much of the patter within the songs. Sitting at the piano with Randall, she offered a beautiful, atmospheric version of the Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael standard "Skylark," while Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" (one of this reviewer's personal favorites) featured Spangler's understated vocal bobbing along the complex melody and the cool arrangement, which broke into waltz time for just a couple of bars at " . . . a week in Paris."
The classic associated with Marlene Dietrich, "Falling in Love Again," was accompanied by an old-fashioned, parlor-sounding piano arrangement that gave way to a full swing sound at the second verse. Spangler helped her audience focus on the enjoyable arrangements, which are vital when delivering a repertoire of familiar songs. Arrangements can be a fascinating expression of musical creativity and imagination. They are akin to the best undergarments-you don't think about them, you don't see them, but a really good undergarment makes everything look fabulous.
As Spangler offered her "Thanks Yous," she included a shout out to the University of Arizona, which lent her the original Riddle/Ronstadt charts that she and Randall then adjusted for current instrumentation. "Art is creating and recreating," Spangler said. Nelson Riddle may have hated rock music, but he consented to creating a new arrangement for "Desperado"--the 1973 Eagles song that Ronstadt helped make a huge hit--that Linda would sing as her concert closer. Spangler sang a beautiful rendition as her encore and it felt as if she was just getting into a serious groove as the show was closing, her voice becoming richer and warmer as the night went on. Her next performance of Riddle, Ronstadt & Robyn (on Saturday, 1/17, at 4 pm, also at the Metropolitan Room) should capture Spangler really hitting her stride with this show.