Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, 18 February 2016
Reviewed for Cabaret Scenes by Steve Murray
There are a few fantastic constants that run through Paula West’ new show – devotion to great lyricists, an honoring a great woman of color that preceded her, and a successful blend of vintage classics and contemporary interpretations. All these components, along with Wests’ strong contralto and Adam Shulman’s remarkable arrangements, make her four-week residency at Feinstein’s the event of the season.
Those great wordsmiths? How about one of West’s favorites Bob Dylan. A slow measured cover of his powerful “Just Like a Woman”, an exploration of feminine wiles, and “Make You Feel My Love” are evidence that Paula is one of his finest interpreters. His defiant lyrics and rhythmic meter fit well with West’s style as does a lovely cover of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get to Phoenix”, another of West’s favorite songwriters.
Ethel Waters, a groundbreaking artist in her day, is represented by Papa Charlie Jackson’s “Shake That Thing” and Irving Berlin’s swinging “Waiting at the End of the Road”. It’s easy to see why West chose two numbers sung by Pearl Bailey in the failed musical St. Louis Woman featuring music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. “Legalize My Name”, a bluesy swing and “A Woman’s Prerogative” are written from a strong woman’s perspective.
Adam Shulman’s arrangements are superb, guest guitarist Jacques Leisure is a great find, and the percussion work by Jerome Jennings is nothing short of spectacular. Closing with a heartfelt tribute to David Bowie, West and the band rock out to “Space Oddity” replete with sweeping synthesizer, sonic guitar solos and pounding drums swirling around Bowies symphonic melody. It was a stunning end to a classic evening of Paula West’s compelling style and keen sensibilities.