There is something effortless about the way Julie Budd can belt out a tune. Sometimes, it seems too effortless. This singer has got more money notes than Citibank, but there's no interest being paid here.
Her current show at Arci's Place is called Julie Budd: The Songs of My Life, and you would think there'd be more passion in a show with a title like that. Though Budd plants her feet and sings with gusto, she doesn't seem to be feeling much of what she's singing. If these are the songs of her life, where's the life?
Despite her fabulous pipes, the best part of Budd's show is her patter. She is funny and completely herself when she speaks; the Brooklyn girl with personality comes shining through. That personality might be abrasive at times, but it's real and fundamentally charming. Yet, when Budd sings, she oftentimes puts on a strange English accent. (If you heard her at the MAC Awards at Town Hall last month, you know what we're talking about.) Though she may in fact be sincere in her singing, that affected accent puts every emotion in doubt. After all, these are supposed to be the songs of Julie Budd's life, not Julie Andrews'! When, on occasion, Budd assumes a character--e.g., Magnolia in Show Boat--she uses a different, more appropriate accent. Her version of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" is refreshing in context.
At various points in the show, Budd recalls meeting Peggy Lee, talks about learning to sing an Edith Piaf song ("If You Love Me") at the age of seven, and remembers the advice Frank Sinatra gave her when they worked together in Las Vegas. (She was all of sixteen years old when he told her, "'Sing great songs and you can't wrong.'") Budd then proceeds to cover several Sinatra hits--a sweet idea, but she presents them in a medley that doesn't allow any of the individual numbers a chance to breathe. We'd venture a guess that what Sinatra meant was, "Sing great songs all the way through."
Speaking of great songs: Budd's longtime musical director, Herb Bernstein (they've worked together since she was 12), wrote a lovely song for his star, "Little Boy of Mine." Budd sings this touching piece with delicacy and feeling. If there were more of that kind of connection to emotion in her show, it would make a world of difference.
To be fair, we should say that the audience at Arci's Place on Budd's opening night applauded the singer mightily. She has always been more of an audience favorite than a critics' darling, but we've seen and heard Budd perform on any number of occasions and have been quite taken with her. At Arci's, she is unfortunately coasting on the power of her pipes. Or maybe the songs of her life have become so familiar that she's forgotten what they mean.