Carole J. Bufford: The Fearless Females of the 1960s

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Carole J. Bufford

The Fearless Females of the 1960s

Feinstein’s/54Below, NYC, April 4, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Carole J. Bufford

Last night, vocalist Carole J. Bufford left the well-mined 1920s and ’30s, with which she’s often associated, for the era of turmoil and flower power. (“I normally sing songs by people who are very, very dead.”) The artist took us on a well-researched tour of solo women pop artists whose oeuvre became part of the soundtrack of a generation.

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Heads bobbed, feet tapped, shoulders swayed, many in our audience mouthed lyrics. It was FUN!

Opening with “You Don’t Own Me” (John Madara/David White) as introduced by 17-year-old Lesley Gore—apparently “sick of singing party songs”—Bufford’s elastic voice was accompanied by particularly robust piano and palpable rhythm. She was, in character, emphatically pissed off. On its tail came Dusty Springfield’s hit “Tell Him” (Bert Berns), so vivid one could practically hear the back-up girls: “I know something about love/You’ve gotta want it bad….” Channeling emphasis into lyric rather than movement, she didn’t yet dance.

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An arm rose, wrist turned, shoulders reset, nose crinkled.

Bufford delivered a Burt Bacharach/Hal David selection with the authors’ stop/start, Morse Code phrasing and undulating vibrato. Her vocal grew hard-edged for a Carlo Donida/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller number, including notes that soared like Frisbees. “Goldfinger” (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley), reverberated with power, finishing on a wowza note—“That’s the only E flat you’re getting from me tonight,” she quipped. Style adapted to song.

A rendition of Carole King/Gerry Goffin’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” rode on lovely, music-box piano. The terrific arrangement by Ian Herman allowed Bufford to enact lyrics, giving the song sympathetic meaning, eschewing its usual inappropriate, overproduced bounce. A second fresh take appeared with Sonny Bono’s kitchy “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” which built, speeding to an abrupt ending reminiscent of the work of Jacques Brel. A third, unnervingly portrayed Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” not as a tale of wretched addiction, but rather of the honky-tonk madness of its high.

We heard a musically burlesque “Rock Me Baby” (Joe Josea/B.

B. King), during which Bufford’s voice executed the bump ‘n’ grind and a version of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (Pino Donaggio/Vicki Wickham/Simon Napier Bell) emerging first in its original Italian, replete with pop sob-suffixes and lush pianistic waves. Even the artist’s superb musicians were grinning.

One interpretation and a single selection gave me pause. Bufford’s rendition of the iconic “Me and Bobby McGee” (Kris Kristofferson) eschewed a great opportunity for the kind of balladic lyricism its author employed on his recording for the Joplin-like rock version. The former would’ve given the show a moment of welcome respite. Inclusion of an eclectic, French, yé-yé number by Serge Gainsbourg did nothing for the “menu.”

MD/pianist/ arranger Herman sunk his teeth (imagination, and fingers) into evocative, textured versions of classics. Peter Calo’s articulate guitar seemed delighted to be back in the 1960s.

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His vocal backup on Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” added to the impact of the number.

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Tom Hubbard played both upright bass and bass guitar with equal skill and style. Drummer Howie Gordon made effortless that to which the rest of us can merely bop.

This evening’s tribute was peppered with historical/political context and anecdotes. Having not lived through these times, Bufford found herself fascinated and the era’s music, often currently relevant.

It shows. Wisely, everything is not rendered upbeat, often the case with songs of the period.

Bufford commands a stage as if born in a trunk. She connects with her audience. Focus and control are omnipresent, yet the artist responds when someone up front kibitzes during patter. The show is thoughtful, well produced, and indisputably FUN.

Additional Dates: May 6, June 12, July 6

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.