Jim Speake Lives the Sweet Life – A Review

From the moment Jim Speake steps on stage, you know you’re in for a special night of cabaret. Having done his first cabaret show to celebrate his 60th birthday, he is relatively new to this genre, if not this earth and he has studied well and learned the craft. His patter, in an authentic Southern drawl, has charm and is in the moment. The “aw, shucks” quality comes through when he questions himself with an “I’m thirsty today?” while reaching for a sip of water. There’s a joy that Jim Speake brings to his performance that’s like a little boy with a new toy. He gets the essence of what a good cabaret show should be.

Steven Ray Watkins has deftly crafted arrangements to perfection which are well suited to Jim. “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (Music & Lyrics by Jim Messina and Kenny Loggins) was particularly well done; so much so that Jim lets out a howl at the end, not necessarily what you’d expect from the pleasant, mild-mannered gent on stage, but spot on. The harmonies in “Not the Boy Next Door” (Music and Lyrics by Peter Allen and Dean Pitchford) and “I Hear A Symphony” (Music & Lyrics by Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland & Edward Holland) were exquisitely delivered with subtlety and never over-powering Mr. Speake.

The musicians rounding out this evening, which they kept musically, very tight while still getting to jam at times, were Donna Kelly (Drums & Percussion), Matt Scharfglass (Bass) & Peter Calo (Guitar). Jim Speake’s delivery of “You Don’t Know Me” (Music & Lyrics by Cindy Williams and Eddy Arnold) was accompanied by a brilliant sweet guitar solo by Mr. Calo and created a particularly dreamy moment in the show.

Hats off to Lennie Watts who wears two for this show, as back-up singer and director. There’s a lot of talent up on that stage surrounding Jim Speake (Lennie Watts, Karen Mack, Rachel Hanser and Stevie Ray Watkins), but Watts makes it solid behind Jim’s voice, charm and honest delivery keeping him center stage.

Jim tells us he was a rebel as he talks about his first set of wheels and how he’d go to the drive-in with three in the front, four in the back and two in the trunk. Ah, for those simpler times. The title of Jim’s CD, Sweet Life, which is celebrated with this performance, perfectly explains him and he shares it generously with us with his song and style. After all, who couldn’t use a little “Sweet Life” nowadays.

You can see this show this Saturday, October 8th at 4pm at Don’t Tell Mama.