For those unfamiliar with Ripley's songwriting (she composes both words and music), her songs are a distinctly feminine fusion of pop and rock with a hint of country. As a performer of her own material, she stands on stage with a guitar and sings with a voice that most divas would kill for. Here's the anomaly: When she performs in musical theater her diction is excellent but, as a pop singer, Ripley affects a slurred and exotic sound, stressing vocal attitude rather than the words themselves. The sounds she makes are plenty pretty but, too often, the lyrics are impossible to make out.
In her Joe's Pub show, Ripley offered her audience a sampling of songs that veered from fresh and fierce to banal and repetitive. She presented a set heavy on uptempo tunes in an apparent effort to establish a high-energy atmosphere; a lot of that energy was created by Ford's inventive accompaniment. Of these songs, the absolute best was a bitterly funny number called "I Wish I Was My Brother," a furious lament on the lot of women. Among the show's few ballads was the touching "Valentine," which Ripley played directly to her husband. The interaction between them provided a specificity that grounded the song and made it feel real. Too many of the other songs had a sameness that came from her inattention to lyrics, both as writer and singer. Perhaps in an effort to distance herself from her musical theater image, Ripley kept her patter spare and only rarely revealing.
While we wouldn't necessarily urge a musical theater audience to check out this show, we feel quite differently about Ripley's debut CD, Everything's Fine; it's a far more sensitive album than the live act suggests. There are more ballads with better lyrics and sweeter melodies. We are quite taken, for example, with "She Keeps Her Love Away" and "Calling All Angels." As for all those other songs on which the lyrics are tough to catch -- well, Ripley provides the words in her notes in the CD booklet.
You can make up your own mind about Alice Ripley's music when she brings her show back to Joe's Pub on August 27.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]