By BART GREENBERG**** The American troubadour Amanda McBroom made her Birdland debut on Monday evening, June 5, 2017 to promote the release of her newest CD, Voices. A celebrity-packed audience (Austin Pendleton, Heather Mac Rae, Karen Ziemba, Alex Rybeck and legendary lyricist Sheldon Harnick with his wife Margery Gray) cheered the singer/songwriter. McBroom offered up a mix of songs (both hers and others) with her trademark mix of class, intelligence and humor. At one point during the show, she happily talked about the joys of visiting New York City, one of which is visiting the cavernous Strand Book Store, being surrounded by books and book readers. This passion for words and ideas is apparent in her own lyrics and the songs which she admires by other writers.
In fact, she related that it was a book that provoked her newest project. Reading The Joy of Tidying Up led her to begin the task or sorting out her studio, filled with tapes, CDs and even 8-tracks of songs she had written and for some reason abandoned. She decided it was time to let these “children” out of the closet.
Denoting which songs were also featured on the recording, and which were not, McBroom pointed out the differences by holding up a home-made YES/NO card. This casual, unpretentious trick is indicative of her whole straightforward, unfussy approach to performance. Her lyrics are offered up with clarity and her interpretations possess a simple empathy toward the characters in her story songs. Even her clothing at the performance was striking in its simplicity of a black pants suit and a scarf with silver highlights.
Not on the CD are two comic McBroom-written songs she used to lighten the mood. One was the humorous outcry of a “Dieter’s Prayer” (included on her CD recorded live in NYC’s now-gone Rainbow and Stars in 1994) and the other a remembrance of teenage passion, “Reynosa,” infused with rhythms inspired by her adolescence spent in Texas (a track on a very early recording, dating back to the ’80s). The Voices CD includes several ballads that were not sung in the live show, including a touching meditation on death (“Welcome Home”) and a positive but realistic declaration of commitment (“I’m Here for Life,” a collaboration with Randy Goodrum). Also only heard in concert was a solo by McBroom’s musical director/pianist and often co-author, Michele Brourman, singing and accompanying herself on the duo’s sprightly celebration of maturity, “You’re Only Old Once.”
Both live and on disc, “Yarnell Hill” is a devastating tribute to firefighters, while “Old Love” is a sweet tribute to rediscovered romances with a surprising touch of humor. Both were co-written with Brourman.
The recording gets a lush background with a large collection of strings and back-up vocalists, plus a “guest appearance” by country legend Vince Gill, who joins McBroom on her most famous song, “The Rose,” their voices blending in a beautiful rendition.
Amanda McBroom…. photo above by Mary Ann Halpin
On stage, the singer was joined by “The Amazing Her Band East” (the name deriving from a slighter tortured sign left from a Taiwanese tour), consisting of Brourman on piano, Jered Egan (bass) and Eli Zoller (guitar and backup vocals). The three musicians created a wonderful sound all their own.
Voices, both on stage and on disc, is a lovely, moving experience and one to return to often for new insights into the multitude of characters McBroom explores via her writing and her singing.