Grammy Award winning singer Rita Coolidge has been around a long time and has been enormously successful, but performing at the Café Carlyle (through March 15) may be one of the most difficult things she has ever done. Give her credit for trying, but she simply doesn't know how to act a song. And her microphone technique will drive you crazy: She moves the mic like a yo-yo in front of her mouth rather than modulating the volume of her own voice. Nonetheless, there's always something compelling about seeing a famous entertainer in a small, intimate club. In addition, Coolidge is quite lovely and she certainly commands the stage. Her patter is charming and she is perfectly at ease when she talks to the audience. Significantly, her voice has so much character that if you simply listen to her sing, it sounds as if she's got something passionate to say; unfortunately, she uses neither her face nor her body to help sell her songs, a fault we've encountered with increasing frequency in the larger clubs where big name recording artists tend to get gigs.
On the other end of the spectrum is Eileen Fulton. We recently saw her perform at Chez Suzette and felt that, despite a limited vocal instrument, she was finally more successful than Coolidge. Simply put, this famous soap star uses all of her considerable acting experience to help sell her songs. In a big concert hall where entertainers can get away with singing at the audience rather than to them, Coolidge might well have the advantage, but not in an intimate cabaret venue. Here, an entertainer with Fulton's gifts can make a connection that goes straight to the heart. Fulton's storytelling actually overshadowed her vocal stylings, but the overall experience of the show was inclusive, warm, and fundamentally entertaining.
A paragon of both vocal excellence and interpretive skill is Martha Lorin, who just completed a series of shows at Judy's Chelsea. In all of our years on this beat, we have never heard a jazz singer with a more beautifully seductive voice, and Lorin infuses her lyrics with feeling. She has a most uncommon gift: a jazz belt. When she goes for a big, open-throated sound, it's thrilling to be in the same room with her. Lorin can get a little goofy with her patter, but that's part of her appeal, and her deadpan comic delivery is a scream. Her show at Judy's featured Tedd Firth's impressive piano playing as well as Siobhan Weiss's exceedingly fine work on sound and lights.
Finally, get yourself to Jim Caruso's Cast Party. These events are held every Monday night (except this coming Monday, March 3) at The Supper Club's new King Kong Room. It's the late night place to be: The night we popped in, so did Brent Barrett, Natalie Douglas, Billy Porter, Johnny Rodgers, and David Raleigh -- all of whom performed, as did the irrefutably funny and stylish Caruso -- plus lots of other fun, talented folks. The room simply glows with New York nightlife ambiance. It feels like a throwback to another era but it has this era's top-notch entertainers dropping in to schmooze, sing, eat, and drink. The party seems to get going around 11pm every Monday, and it really is a party.