Porter Carroll Jr.
The Evolution of Cabaret
Metropolitan Room, NYC, February 25, 2017
Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes
Those attending a Porter Carroll Jr. show come with expectation. A former vocalist with ’70s/80s R&B group Atlantic Starr, Carroll also sang back-up for a who’s-who of industry singer heavyweights. The good news is that Carroll’s voice does not disappoint.
His delivery is superb, employing proficient vocal technique to match each song’s mood: a smooth legato when pensive; a rounded bellow when confessing love; a staccato snare-like attack when the groove takes over. His range is extensive, always controlled and placed flawlessly, and his soaring falsetto got a showcase in “Purple Rain” (Prince). Add in requisite stylistic growls, slides and showboat held-out notes, and it’s like you’re listening to a human recording.
The bad news is that Carroll seems to rely on his vocal prowess to hold an audience. Structuring the evening like a concert (with little patter), the audience clapped and sang along, but they also got easily distracted—chatting with each other and sometimes treating the performance as background music. With little to focus on and Carroll’s lack of true star quality (a cliché quality of back-up singers), the evening diverged from cabaret territory to party band.
The true stars of this show were Wali Ali’s innovative arrangements, which recall a plethora of styles: ’70s Adult Contemporary R&B, New Orleans jazz swing, ’60s rock shuffle, house party funk, etc. Each song found a unique, aural aesthetic—deftly aided by Danny Obadia’s synth which filled out a multitude of flavors. Reinventions of “The 59th Street Bridge Song” (Feelin’ Groovy”) (Paul Simon), “Wichita Lineman” (Jimmy Webb) and “Light My Fire” (The Doors) illuminate the lyrics in a traditional cabaret sense while redefining these songs for a new audience. But it was their version of “Can’t Buy Me Love” (Paul McCartney), which seemed to mix the People’s Court theme, Latin disco and an ’80s R&B anthem, that presented a one-of-a-kind experience.
Carroll, Ali and the (smoking hot) Tambourine Band put on quite a show. But for those who seek insight and interpretation in their shows, might I recommend a few drinks from the bar before the show starts?