Welcome to the ’60s with Carole J. Bufford

By MARILYN LESTER****Carole J. Bufford‘s ode to the music made famous by the rocking divas of five decades ago, You Don’t Own Me: The Fearless Females of the 1960s, was not only fearless, but, like many of the ladies themselves, absolutely fierce. There’s a reason she’s won Nightlife, Bistro, and BroadwayWorld Awards for Outstanding Vocalist: Bufford is one of those high-energy performers who takes to the stage with 100% commitment to and possession of it. She sings, moves, and radiates power and command of her material with ease. The 1960s was a decade of transition and change – often radical. This she captures more in narrative than in song, but the stories leading into the sets are compelling. Take, for example, the intro to “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (Pete Seeger, based on The Book of Ecclesiastes) covered by Judy Collins in 1963 – a “where were you when?” point in time, marked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Or the story behind Etta James and her 1961 cover of “Spoonful” (Willie Dixon), which encompassed the double entendre meaning of a heroin problem.

The music of the 1960s suits Bufford well. She has a naturally big and powerful voice. In her shows centering on the traditional music of the Great American Songbook, she’d fallen into the trap that so many young performers fail to avoid: belting for the sake of it. In this thrilling set, Bufford has rediscovered nuance, using her musical theater training and acting chops to flesh out and add texture to the material. From a powerful, full-body slam on tunes such as “Goldfinger” (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley), released by Shirley Bassey in 1964, and Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (Lee Hazlewood), she is equally effective singing Cher’s 1966 solo turn, written by then-husband Sonny Bono, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” and Bassey’s 1963 cover, “I (Who Have Nothing)”/ (Italian version, “Uno Dei Tanti” by Carlo Donida/Giulio Rapetti; English lyrics by Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller), as torch songs. This last number came astutely after a high-powered opener of the eponymous “You Don’t Own Me”  (John Madara/David White), Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit, complete with flashing disco lights, followed by the exciting Exciters’ 1962 “Tell Him” (Bert Berns, aka Bert Russell), demonstrating a smart approach to pacing the show.

There was fun, too. Acknowledging her Southern roots (Bufford is a Georgia girl), she sang “Harper Valley PTA” (Tom T. Hall), Jeannie C. Riley’s biting, but amusing 1968 hit. This ying was counterbalanced by yang, as Bufford characterized it, with the travails of Tina Turner and her difficult marriage to Ike Turner. As a homage to Ms. Turner, who eventually went on to a spectacular solo career, she voiced a sultry “Rock Me Baby” (adapted by B.B. King from an earlier number by Lil’ Son Jackson) covered in 1969 (moving through the audience with a follow spot), as well as Turner’s 1968 cover of the lamenting “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (Otis Redding/Jerry Butler). Another fearless diva of the era, Dusty Springfield, entered prominently into the narrative and was represented in song with her 1964 success “I Only Want to Be with You” (Mike Hawker/Ivor Raymonde) and her 1966 mega-hit, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (Italian version, “Io Che Non Vivo” [“Senza Te”] by Pino Donaggio/Vito Pallavicini; English lyrics by Vicki Wickham).

Bufford’s final number of the evening not only closed You Don’t Own Me: The Fearless Females of the 1960s, but announced the end of the decade itself: Nina Simone’s soulful  1969 cover of Bob Dylan’s powerful and much-recorded “I Shall Be Released.” Her encore, however, tipped over into the 1970s. That fierce and fearless diva’s diva, Janis Joplin recorded “Me and Bobby McGee” (Kris Kristofferson/Fred Foster) in 1970. The record was released posthumously in 1971.

An outstanding feature of You Don’t Own Me was Bufford’s band, a quartet that was anything but mere background. These cats played in a tight groove, led by versatile Music Director-pianist, Ian Herman. They were  not only thrillingly in sync with each other, but were in the pocket with Bufford, offering support and enhancement to her vocalizations. Herman showed his keyboard chops with a melodic introduction of The Shirelles’ 1961 hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King), while guitarist Peter Calo shone throughout but was especially outstanding on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Rounding out the rhythm were the ever-reliable and steady Tom Hubbard on bass guitar and Howie Gordon on shaded, orchestrated drums/percussion.

The performance was reviewed at the Manhattan venue Feinstein’s/54 Below  on July 6, 2017.

See the singer’s website  www.carolejbufford.com for more information, including upcoming dates throughout the summer in Delaware, Georgia, and many dates in Florida.

Photos of Ms. Bufford by Kristin Hoebermann