There may be no more unexpected — or unexpectedly brilliant number — to be found this cabaret season than “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which concludes Something Good, Paula West’s very fine new show at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room. West squeezes more people than you thought possible into a small space at the room’s center — including the superb George Mesterhazy quartet and four talented back-up singers — and lets loose with an intricate and superb arrangement of the Rolling Stones’ classic that simultaneously reveres its roots as a rock n’ roll anthem and recrafts the tune as an intimate, cabaret-appropriate story song.
The number is the final stop on West’s dizzying eclectic musical journey, an evening of so many stylistic hairpin curves that it could cause a less accomplished artist than West to lose control. But it’s always been this dazzling vocalist’s hallmark to not just encompass a century’s worth of music in one show, but to fully immerse herself in each song while maintaining her own singular jazz-pop style.
West showcased her gifts right off the bat with a gently swinging version of “Something Good” (from the film version of The Sound of Music) that manages to eliminate the lyrics’ treacly sentiment. She had a great deal of fun with her second number, “The Goodbye Song,” which she found on a Pearl Bailey record, though a slight case of opening night jitters caused her to look at her lyric sheet more than once.
But she was completely in charge with a rather somber and truly haunting take on the Nat King Cole standard “Nature Boy,” which was inspired by a recent trip to Turkey. That song was followed by a truly joyful version of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” that only the audience’s restraint kept from turning into a singalong.
Few singers navigate the waters from pop to standards and back again as smoothly as West. She gave necessary gravitas to Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello’s dirge-like “That Day Is Done” and continued her exploration into the work of Bob Dylan with a very smartly sung rendition of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” West also fully committed to Mesterhazy’s too-spare arrangement of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows,” which sadly robbed the song of its ethereal beauty.
On the other hand, West truly dazzled with a trio of older songs, the exuberant “Miss Brown to You,” the tongue-twisting “Crazy Rhythm,” and most of all, a marvelously full-bodied “Isn’t It Romantic,” including some of the standard’s lesser-known verses. Not surprisingly, the number earned some of the evening’s loudest — and most well-deserved — applause.