Jessica Molaskey: Portraits of Joni–CD Release

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Jessica Molaskey

Portraits of Joni—CD Release

Birdland, NYC, September 18, 2017

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Jessica Molaskey

The affinity and affection Jessica Molaskey has for Joni Mitchell’s work has been obvious for years, in small doses with large impact, as she’s slipped sublime samples into recorded and live work. Because of Mitchell’s often non-traditional melodies with leaps and swoops, her sometimes dense and/or poetic lyrics, and uber-personal confessionals, it’s no easy feat to confidently cover the oeuvre without sounding like a self-conscious copycat. No worries here. Lead singer and companions look and sound serene and immersed; indeed the Molaskey/Mitchell melding is a marvel of artistry in her Portraits of Joni CD, a labor of love sounding anything but labored.

In person, the family affair that the album is gets emphasized with its three kinfolk folk music vocal  participants all seated throughout the performance equidistant from the audience rather than the harmonizing “back-up” singers in the back. John Pizzarelli, whom Jessica slyly introduced as “my favorite husband so far” was stage right and between them: college-age daughter Madeleine, the revelation of the project, DNA and “home schooling” resulting in natural, refreshing talent evident.

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Dad and daughter played guitars, aided by the nucleus of a band, Molaskey modesty allowing extended tasty instrumental breaks. Her trademark open emotionality in lead vocals perfectly fits this material which the troubadour/scribe introduced years ago, the iconic album Blue heavily represented. Mitchell’s jazz experiments were an obvious stop along the road to take full advantage of Pizzarelli’s home turf.   

For the uninitiated, more familiar fare (“Both Sides Now,” “Chelsea Morning”) might’ve been better placed earlier; they’re more immediately accessible. Longtime admirers are richly rewarded—with material so respected, yet full of original touches from arrangements done mostly by the married couple.

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The other very happy marriage is between the musical sensibilities of the two women whose initials are J.M.

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.