Sally Mayes & Jeff Harnar: Double Take

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:4 mins read

Sally Mayes & Jeff Harnar

Double Take

Birdland, NYC, November 9, 2015

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Sally-Mayes-Jeff-Harnar-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Although they were coincidentally born exactly one week apart, you might think they are miles apart in style and home towns and wouldn’t mix. But meet the complementary combination. They are sassy Sally Mayes—from that big state of Texas, who has a big personality and big voice—and the gentler Jeff Harnar, the smiling gentleman whose sunny ways may resemble the sunny California where he hails from. The duo’s teamwork was well supported by a trio—Jeff’s longtime musical director Alex Rybeck at the keys, Dan Gross drumming, and Bob Renino, who plays bass and also plays husband to Mayes in real life. Many arrangements were Rybeck-fashioned and our female singer had her hands in writing some of the songs, with Mayes, Rybeck, and Harnar all pooling their ideas for the adorable title song. Their tongue-in-cheek patter included good-natured digs at each other, and the revelation that our female star allegedly insists on being addressed as “Miss Sally” in Southern tradition and that when she smilingly says “Bless your heart,” she doesn’t really mean it. The well-timed payoff came shortly after that when her performing partner got a big hand on a solo and she followed for hers, looked to where he had exited and dripping with poisoned honey cooed, “Bless his heart.”

But no worries. Both scored big time with solos, like her self-penned gratitude-soaked “Somebody Sent Me an Angel,” dedicated to, you know, her favorite bassist. And for material, Jeff reached back to his very first recording which he held up. (It was a cassette!) It turned out to be the gratifyingly gravitas moment of the night, “There Is a Time” from the Charles Aznavour songbook (originally titled, in French, “Le temps”). And they were movingly sincere with a duet on “At the Same Time,” an early Ann Hampton Callaway creation about the commonalities that all humankind share, a plea for peace and respect for human life that still resonates.

Many of the moods were bouncy and upbeat and Mayes and Harnar seemed to get sparks from each other, with a mutual affection showing in more than a show-bizzy way. A duet of “Just in Time” was done with the goofy glee and vaudeville touch as designed for and performed in its original source form in the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing, though it quickly became reborn in the romantic ballad style that’s become the usual custom. For me, the standard “That’s All” is overused as a goodbye song (as a last track on CD, too, while I’m on my complainer’s soapbox) and this clever pairing of talents deserve something more inspired, preferably on the brighter side. On the bright side of the act’s assets, however, are some definite “keepers.” These include some song pairings where the pair of singers also show their deftness in counterpoint work in specialty arrangements, as they also seesaw between two old pieces about post-break-up blues: “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” and “Don’t Get Around Much Any More.” They also get around to a much-applauded marriage of two Simon & Garfunkel smile-inducing items: “At the Zoo” and “Feelin’ Groovy,” aka “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”

Hopefully, Miss Sally and Gentleman Jeff have among their New Year’s resolutions to re-team. Should the Texan tarry, I’d urge Jeff to privately reprise one of his most persuasive solos: Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s “Come Back to Me.”

Rob Lester

2015 is native New Yorker Rob Lester's eighth year as contributing writer, beginning by reviewing a salute to Frank Sinatra, whose recordings have played on his personal soundtrack since the womb. (His Cabaret Scenes Foundation member mom started him with her favorite; like his dad, he became an uber-avid record collector/ fan of the Great American Songbook's great singers and writers.) Soon, he was attending shows, seeking out up-and-comers and already-came-ups, still reading and listening voraciously. He also writes for and, has been cabaret-centric as awards judge, panel member/co-host, and produces benefit/tribute shows, including one for us.