Feinstein's at the Regency has consistently presented the kind of performers that one rarely gets to see up close and personal. Last year, that included such entertainers as The Smothers Brothers, Jimmy Webb, and Paul Williams. This year, the tradition continues with the booking of Kenny Rankin.
"I've been around since dust," Rankin admits. Well, anyway, he's been around since the early 1960s. A songwriter, guitarist, and singer, Rankin has had (and continues to have) a singular career. Straddling the worlds of pop and jazz, he has been professionally associated with everyone from Bob Dylan to the Beatles to Mel Tormé. Yet the man is modest beyond measure, endearing himself to these critics with his self-deprecating humor and dry wit. In fact, his patter -- both written and ad-libbed -- was the highlight of the show. Our favorite moment came when he was about to sing a sensitive ballad: He suddenly called out to the technical director, "Bring the lights down a little. I feel like I'm being chased by the Highway Patrol."
The title of Rankin's show is A Song For You, which is also the title of his most recent CD (Verve Records). He sings only one of his own compositions in this act, but it happens to be one of the show's strongest moments. The song is "Haven't We Met" (Rankin/Batchelor) and he performs it with a deeper sense of feeling than he brings to many of the tunes he covers in the rest of his show.
Though Rankin has a wonderfully deep speaking voice, he sings in a rarified narrow band in his upper register. That sound is pretty, mellow, sensitive, and totally without rough edges. He only very occasionally uses his deeper voice, and when he does it's usually just to accent a phrase. As a consequence, his renditions start to sound very much alike. His style is so specific that songs as wildly different as "The Way You Look Tonight" (Kern/Fields) and "Spanish Harlem" (Leiber/Spector) begin to seem similar. That's where his charming patter comes in so effectively; it really helps vary the mood.
Also enhancing the show is Rankin's band, which consists of David Fink on bass and Warren Odes on drums. At one point, Rankin sings "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" (Cole Porter) with only a bass for accompaniment, and it's the very soul of elegant simplicity. To a large extent, that's what Rankin is all about. And Feinstein's, to its credit, is all about giving you the chance to see him. You may do so through February 15.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]