Vonda Shepard

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Vonda Shepard

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, August 14, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes

Vonda-Shepard-Cabaret-Scenes-Magaine_212Vonda Shepard, most familiar for her regular role on TV’s Ally McBeal, is one hard-working musician. Touring the world relentlessly in support of her new CD Rookie, Shepard and longtime collaborators Jim Hanson (Katey Sagal, Rosanne/Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen) on bass and James Ralston (Tina Turner) on guitars churn out a tight hybrid of R&B, pop, rock and blues hits, all centered around Shepard’s steady piano playing.

Employing 1-3-5 chords structures used in many gospel tunes, Shepard’s original songs speak to love’s raw emotions and the circumstances of her life on the road. Shepard, who’s voice is strong, clear and unique, never had the global commercial success of singer songwriters like Carole King, Carly Simon or a Sarah McLachlan, but she’s every bit as good a songwriter. She performs excellent covers of hits like “Respect Yourself” (Luther Ingram/Mack Rice) and a lovely “Walk Away Renee,” a huge hit for ‘60s rockers The Left Banke. Hanson handles the descending chromatic bass melody on “Renee” like the pro he is, with Ralston adding sweet guitar lines to Shepard’s honest vocal.

It’s her original songs that provide the bulk of her set and the highest quality. “Maryland,” about disillusionment and broken dreams, sees the singer longing for the safety of home. “The Sunset Marquis” is a musician’s insider tale of dating a well-known singer. “The Wildest Times of The World” and “Searching My Soul” (penned with Paul Howard Gordon) contain all the Shepard staples: great vocals, hook-driven choruses and carefully structured verses. Her mix of piano ballads and up-tempo rockers make for an enjoyable evening. In a business filled with one-hit wonders, Shepard has consistently rolled out her introspective style of music with no plans of quitting any time soon.

Steve Murray

Always interested in the arts, Steve was encouraged to begin producing and, in 1998, staged four, one-man vehicles starring San Francisco's most gifted performers. In 1999, he began the Viva Variety series, a live stage show with a threefold mission to highlight, support, and encourage gay and gay-friendly art in all the performance forms, to entertain and document the shows, and to contribute to the community by donating proceeds to local non-profits. The shows utilized the old variety show style popularized by his childhood idol Ed Sullivan. He’s produced over 150 successful shows, including parodies of Bette Davis’s gothic melodramedy Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s very awful Trog. He joined Cabaret Scenes 2007 and enjoys the writing and relationships he’s built with very talented performers.