Picks and Pans Review: The New York Rock and Soul Revue: Live at the Beacon
In the last two years, the normally reclusive Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan renown, has staged a comeback of sorts by headlining a series of live New York City shows accompanied by such musical friends as Michael McDonald, Phoebe Snow, Charles Brown and Boz Scaggs.
These outings quickly proved so popular that they were moved from the city's small Lone Star Roadhouse to the roomier Beacon Theater. Now two of the most recent revues have been recorded and edited into an appealing and classy, if somewhat eccentric, mix.
Blue-eyed soulman McDonald, formerly of the Doobie Brothers, teams up with pop-soul diva Snow on a knock-out version of Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood." This is followed by Fagen singing his own "Green Flower Street," a signature piece of cool, mysterious jazz from his 1982 solo effort, The Nightfly, speeded up here to unfortunate effect.
Other standouts on this stylish exercise in nostalgia include Charles Brown singing his own '40s classic "Driftin' Blues," the Steely Dan song "Chain Lightning" and Snow doing full-throated justice to the Temptations' "Shakey Ground."
Less successful is "Groovin'," the 1967 Rascals hit, performed by former Rascal Eddie Brigati and his brother David. The breezy feeling is there, but, sad to say, their voices sound shot.
McDonald comes to the rescue with a soaring version of the Doobies' '70s megahit "Minute by Minute." Steely Dan's "Pretzel Logic" provides a hip and moody encore before Fagen and the revue players finish up with a short, snappy version of Ray Bryant's "Madison Time."
"Durable music" is what Fagen calls these rock and soul chestnuts in his liner notes. Let's hope he's right and that the New York Rock and Soul Revue is here to stay. (Giant)
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN SINGS THE JULE STYNE SONGBOOK
The bad news: Feinstein's voice has never quite been something to sing about. The good news: His voice has improved with each new release. The best news: This time he has forsaken the piano (which he plays well) to sing to the sensitive, charming accompaniment of one of Broadway's most enduring hit men.
Jule Styne has composed for the best: big, bravura voices like Streisand's in Funny Girl and Ethel Merman's in Gypsy. He has penned melodies with the best: Sammy Cahn ("Time after Time" and "The Things We Did Last Summer"), Comden and Green (Bells Are Ringing) and Stephen Sondheim (Gypsy).
The Styne standards, among them "People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby" and "Make Someone Happy," are included here along with little-known pearls like "Look at You, Look at Me," with lyrics by Frank Loesser, and "Nice She Ain't," which was cut from Gypsy. Feinstein clearly cares greatly about lyrics and pays them due attention. But his voice, while well suited to light melodies and relaxed in the middle register, tends to become nasal when he tries to belt or convey passion. Louder, someone should tell Feinstein, is not better. (Elektra/None Such)