Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

la la land

An out of work actress named Mia (Emma Stone) keeps bumping into a soon to be out of work jazz pianist named Sebastian. (Ryan Gosling)  The first time they meet they give each other “the bird” in a traffic jam.  The next time they meet is shortly after Sebastian gets fired during Christmas.  The two meet again at a party when Mia requests a cheesy 80’s song and asks Sebastian to play the keyboard portion of it.  They meet again looking for their cars during a lovely sunset.  Later, Sebastian finds out that Mia has never seen Rebel Without A Cause and asks her to come see it, but she’s got a boyfriend, and she hates jazz, and he doesn’t want a girlfriend, especially one who doesn’t like jazz.  And they’ve both got big dreams.  She wants to be an actress, he wants to open a jazz club.  Does she go to the movie?  Or are their meetings just coincidental?

There are many good things about La La Land, but the writing is for most of the film is trite.  It follows all the conventions of every romantic comedy ever made including the man and woman hating each other at first sight.  Why does this always happen in the movies?  Nobody hates someone in real life and then, poof magic.  Nothing works that way.    There is a twist near the end, and the ending itself evolves into somewhat of a mystery, which belies the happy mood of the first hour, but is still better than a conventional Hollywood ending.

Ryan Gosling has made a living playing brooding, taciturn, characters, like in Driver, or Blue Valentine, so it was anyone’s guess how he would handle the lead in a musical romantic comedy.  He handles  the comedic part of the role well, but when the script turns more dramatic, his delivery is surprisingly flat. The same can be said for Emma Stone, she couldn’t really handle the more dramatic scenes, and even the comedic scenes, she would sometimes make a  silly face.  The two didn’t seem to have any chemistry, maybe it was the age difference.  Gosling is 8 years older than Stone, maybe that’s why they didn’t seem to have any sparks.   J.K. Simmons had a small role, I wish it was bigger, he is a heck of an actor.

There is a lot of good in this film, and most of it comes from  the director’s chair.  Damien Chazelle is a very talented director, and he realizes that film is a visual medium. This film pops with color, even the scenes filmed at night are brightly lit and look as if they were painted with a brush.  This is also a love letter to classic film, movie posters are strewn all over Mia’s apartment and the cameras catch all of it.  Even when the colors don’t pop, the camera is shooting from some interesting angle or other.  This is not Top Hat or Singin in The Rain, but that it aspires to be and tries to bring back the movie musical is a laudable aspiration.   The choreography is great, the songs are great, those two elements by  themselves make the movie worth watching. There are  portions of this this movie that are told without a word being spoken, that is an incredible achievement.

La La Land:  Mostly music to my  ears.

 

prince-sign-o-the-times

Disk 1:

Sign O’ The Times This is a sparse song musically, automated drum track with a very minimal bass line.  The lyrics are what grabs the listeners attention.  Prince speaks darkly about the drug epidemic, gang violence  and an epidemic in the making, AIDS, although he never mentions it by name.  And then, just when the track lulls the listener by repetition, drums crackle through the silence, the drums sound like gunfire, which is appropriate for this song.  Some jazzy guitar solos end the song.  It’s a daring way to start an album, but this is an audacious album.

Play in the Sunshine:  The polar opposite of Sign O’ The Times, this is a very happy, upbeat song which starts out with the voices of children, happy and playing.  The instrumentation starts with a keyboard or some kind of electric piano. There’s a xylophone in the midst of the keyboard and two very distinct guitar solos The lyrics consist of going to a club and dancing, and having fun, but it includes the lines “We want to be free without the help of margarita and ecstasy.” And in another lyric, “We’re going to love all our enemies, until the gorilla falls off the wall, we’re going to rock him, we’re going to roll him, we’re going to teach him that love will make him tall.”  Not exactly Jesus, but better than most club songs, it’s trying for a message somehow.  There’s a very interesting break in the drums, that sounds like U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” I don’t think Prince did that by accident, or maybe it’s just a coincidence?

Housequake:  Make no mistake Housequake is a funk song.  Pounding drums with bass to match, with discordant keyboard and Prince playing an effects-less Nile Rogers style guitar accented by James Brown horns.  The lyrics try to introduce a new dance craze, that never took off but the song, as all funk should be, is a solid tribute to James Brown.

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker:  This song definitely calms the mood from Housequoke, simple arrangement drums, an  organ like keyboard, and a simple bassline.  Dorothy Parker was an early 20th century poet, but in this song, she’s a blond waitress who Prince tries to woo. There’s a Joni Mitchell reference embedded in the lyrics for no reason at all, but it’s fun.

It:  Another simple arrangement, simple staccato drums, the keyboard leaps out in sharp bursts, so simple, yet one of the most addictive songs on the album.   A nice simple guitar solo fits the song perfectly. It’s pretty clear what the It is in the song title.  Prince seems obsessed with It, not just with this song but on many songs on many of his albums. I could listen to this song over and over.

Starfish and Coffee:  Maybe it’s the alarm clock in the beginning of the song, but the instrumentation definitely sounds Beatle-esque to me, like Eleanor Rigby or a Day in the Life.  It almost sounds like a harp playing in the background through some of this song.That adds to the dreamlike quality of the song The lyrics tell of a unique girl, Cynthia Rose, whose favorite number was 20, and had a smile beneath her nose.  She had special dietary requirements as well.  It’s a hippie trippy kind of song, light and airy like a cloud, enjoy it.

Slow Love:  This is a Prince Slow Jam, meant strictly to romance someone, slow mournful sax, horn, and Prince breaks out his trademark falsetto for some of this song.  This is a Barry White type love song, a mood setter, a type of song that doesn’t exist anymore.

Hot Thing:  A futuristic sounding keyboard and pulsating bass track kicks off Prince’s salacious description of a dancer, “who’s barely 21.” What distinguishes this song though is the sizzling saxophone solo, it is a thing of beauty. Eric Leeds plays a mind blowing sax and deserves full credit for bringing this song to life.

Forever In My Life:  More simple arrangement, drum track and bass, and voice.  The lyrics are about a man finding that special girl and settling down, unconventional for Prince, but shows his versatility lyrically, nice acoustic guitar as a finishing touch.  It’s the polar opposite of Hot Thing.

Disk 2:

U Got The Look:

This song starts with some heavy guitar chords and some back and forth banter between Prince and formerly demure Irish singer of “Morning Train” Sheena Easton.  Sheena is transformed into a tough assertive girl, and the transformation is successful. U Got The Look is just a raucous, fun party, song with a screeching guitar solo to top it off.

If I Was Your Girlfriend:

A really funky bass track kicks this song off.  A really interesting song lyrically, Prince is asking an ex-girlfriend if they could be closer if he were her girlfriend. The question underlying the lyrics is are women closer to their women  friends then they are with their boyfriends or husbands? He employs his falsetto to great effect here to add to the gender bending fun.

Strange Relationship:  Musically, it’s bass and drums locked together, almost like a march, and keyboards sprinkling a melody over it.  This reminds me of his earlier work somewhat with the Revolution, the playfulness of the keyboard the solid beat, it’s another different style in an album filled with different styles. Lyrically, this song is another interesting point of view about the many contradictions of a man maybe recently broken up with a girl, who he still loves.  He’s treated her badly, but he wants her back, it’s contradiction on top of contradiction. “Baby, I just can’t stand to see you happy.”  More than that, I hate to see you sad, honey if you let me, I might do something rash, what’s this strange relationship?”

I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man: This is a song dominated by a guitar riff and matching keyboard.  Prince shows his guitar skills off nicely with a long guitar solo in the middle of the song, and there’s an interesting bridge that leads to a different guitar solo, with a funkier edge.  He just freelances with his guitar for a while and brings it back to the central song, and then fades out.  The lyrics are not as uplifting as the melody, as a man leaves a woman, with one child and another one on the way.  The woman asks Prince if he could step in to which Prince says.  “You wouldn’t be satisfied with a one-night stand, and I could never take the place of your man.”

The Cross:  This is one of my favorite songs, this starts out with a low electric guitar and some gentle strumming, but then the bass drum kicks in and snare drums and adds some urgency to the song and finally power chords kick in to make this a truly powerful song.  And then in a twist, the guitar is replaced with a sitar, adding an Eastern flavor to a Christian song. The lyrics are overtly Christian, but bringing hope to the poor and disillusioned, I think Prince really captures the true spirit of Christianity here, and that’s what makes it so powerful lyrically. “Dark day stormy night, no love no hope in sight, don’t cry he is coming, don’t die without knowing the cross.” That is powerful.  It’s not the only time he has infused Christianity into a song, he said the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of Controversy, which was controversial for some Christians as well as agnostics.  The was also “I Would Die For U” another reference to Jesus, lyrically.

It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night:  A live song,  dominated by  a great horn section, and the oh we oh chant from the Wizard of Oz, another great sax solo from Eric Leeds.  This is another example of a great funk song again in the style of James Brown. There’s even a rap in the middle of the song, nothing great, but it’s a tip of the cap by Prince of the power of the genre. There piano solos, guitar solos and horn solos.  It this song doesn’t get you dancing, check your pulse.

Adore: This is another love ballad with Prince using his trademark falsetto again.  He is professing his love for a girl until the end of time.  The song is simple and beautiful, another  song that sets the mood for romance.  With jazz hons from “Atlanta Bliss” and sax again from Eric Leeds, it reminds me of old school 70’s R&B like the Stylistics.  But he adds his own guttural bass tone to the vocals later, making it his own.  It’s very fitting way to end a monumental album.

I’ve wanted to write a review for Sign O’ The Times, ever since Prince passed away.  I think this is far and away his best album, look at all the topics he talks about drugs, AIDS, gangs, love, sex, relationships and religion.  Look at all the styles he uses, funk, RB, pop, guitar driven songs, jazz, dance even an homage to the Beatles, all while playing most of the instruments himself.

Some of the arrangements are spare, I think purposefully to make the listener pay attention to the lyrics, others have more elaborate arrangements where the listener gets lost in the music.  Even in the simplest arrangements there is always an interesting interplay between drums and bass, or drums, bass, and guitar, the songs are amazing for their simplicity and their complexity.

It was Sign O’ The Times that made me a Prince fan, after that I bought the older cd’s and the newer ones,  but this is my favorite for the incredible range and depth of the music and lyrics.  Prince had a way of talking about relationships in a very humorous, tongue-in-cheek way on this record, but he also wrote some of the sweetest love songs ever penned on this album, and that was the duality of Prince, lyrics dripping with innuendo, or romantic songs that could melt a woman’s heart.  He modulated his voice to deliver any song with ease, that was part of his enormous talent, his voice was another instrument in his arsenal.

Do yourself a favor, and listen to Sign O’ The Times at least once!

Sign o’ the Times:  Ahead of it’s Time.

the-producers-1967

Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is an entertainment producer raising money the only way he knows how, fleecing old women.  Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) a shy accountant walks in on one of these encounters, and wants to see Max’s books.  Max relents, and Leo muses that Max could make more money with a bad play than a good one, because he doesn’t have to return the investors’ money if the play loses money.  Max then hatches a plan to find the worst play in history.  He gets Leo in on the plan just by spending the day with him.

Max and Leo find the worst play in history, Springtime For Hitler, and its author Franz Liebkind (Kenneth Mars) a former Nazi, with an affinity for carrier pigeons. They also find the world’s worst director, Roger De Bris (Christopher Hewitt) and after a long and fruitless audition find the perfect Hitler, an actor named Lorenzo St. Dubois, (Dick Shawn) who auditions by singing a very trippy 60’s song with an all-girl band.  The stage is set for a really bad play, what does the audience think?

This is a very broad satire of Nazis, and a very sly satire of Broadway musicals.  Who else could make fun of Nazis so savagely as Mel Brooks and make it funny? This is The Sound of Music with a bizarre twist.  It is also a satire of Broadway, Brooks hints that Broadway audiences will like anything, and Springtime for Hitler is proof.  He also pokes fun at the longstanding gay connection to Broadway, both De Bris and his assistant are obviously gay.  The assistant’s name is Carmen Ghia, an odd looking model of Volkswagen from the 60’s and 70’s.The character’s initials playing Hitler is L.S.D., an obvious reference to the drug of choice of the pharmaceutically challenged youth of the 60‘s. Ulla, Max’s Swedish secretary embodies the Free Love mantra popular in the 1960’s.  Mel Brooks turned this movie into a Broadway play, and then a movie of the Broadway play, but this is the version of The Producers you should see.

The acting in this movie is superb.  I wanted to see this movie when I heard Gene Wilder passed away.  His frantic and frenetic performance is what makes this movie worth watching.  Brooks gave Leo a compulsion that he borrowed from Charles Shultz of The Peanuts, a blue blanket that he must touch at all times.  Wilder takes these idiosyncrasies and runs wild with them, Leo is teetering on the edge of sanity, who will do anything for some reassurance.  And Zero Mostel provides that reassurance, but he is a shyster, and plays that role masterfully.   And when sweet talk doesn’t work, Mostel uses intimidation, and even though they are the same height, Mostel towers as Wilder cowers.  The character actors like Dick Shawn play their characters perfectly.  L.S.D. is on a continuous acid trip, and it is hilarious.

The directing is so fast paced that the viewer as to pay close attention or he or she will miss a joke or a cultural reference.  Brooks even stages the showtunes to perfection.  I can see why he envisioned this movie as a musical later on. He gets great performances from everyone, especially Wilder and Mostel.  The length is perfect for a comedy. 90 minutes.  The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are the three best Mel Brooks movies, and asking me to choose between them is like choosing a favorite child, but my favorite is Blazing Saddles.

The Producers:  A Wilder side  of Gene, and a Zero who’s a hero.

 

sing-street

In 1985, Conor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) is a 15 year-old teen growing up in Dublin.  His life is going through major changes.  He’s being taken out of private school, and put into a public Catholic school, run by priests, called The Brothers.  On his first day of school, he meets a bully named Barry (Ian Kenney) who threatens to beat him up.  Conor also meets the school’s headmaster ,  Brother Baxter (Don Whycherly) who chastises him for not having black shoes.  But it’s not all bad news for Conor, he also meets a girl named Raphina. (Lucy Boynton)  To impress Raphina, Conor says he has a band.  Now that Conor’s bragged about it, he actually has to form a band.

He meets a teen named Darren (Ben Carolan) after school.  Darren, who wants to be the band’s manager, introduces Conor to Eamon (Mark McKenna) who is a musical wiz.  They meet Ngig (Percy Chambruka) and two other boys from school and start playing, they call themselves Sing Street, after the address of Conor’s new school.  Conor envisions them as a cover band, but Conor’s brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) tells Conor to think big, so he and Eamon start writing their own songs, and Raphina likes the songs so much that she appears in the music videos and does the make-up for the band. Conor soaks up musical influences from his brother, like Joe Jackson, The Cure, Spandau Ballet and Hall and Oates, the music and the videos change as Connor’s moods change, but he loves writing lyrics, and teaming with Eamon on the music.

Not everything goes swimmingly for Conor, his parents’ fighting has become more commonplace, his mom might be having an affair, and he finds out that Raphina is dating an older man named Evan, (Peter Campion) their departure to London is imminent.  Connor is planning to do a “Back to the Future” themed video, but Raphina never shows up, has she left for London already?  What does that do to Conor and the band?

Sing Street is a great movie.  It is absolutely a love letter to the 1980’s.  Raphina looks like a Madonna wannabe, Conor changes his look to match whatever music he’s listening to that week.  Anyone who remembers those 1980’s MTV videos fondly, or has tried to start a garage band will instantly relate to this movie.  The songs in the movie are great, some of them sound like The Cure or Hall and Oates or Joe Jackson, some of them sound like nothing else, most of them do convey that 80’s feeling.  The movie is much more than that however, it’s about a younger brother idolizing his older brother, even though he’s the black sheep of the family, and it’s about an older brother who loves his younger brother so much, he is willing to share his musical influences with him.  It’s also a story about how music can be escapism from family problems, or give a person courage to face up to bullies, and find an identity that best suits him or her.  Most importantly, Sing Street illustrates the importance of music as a way to rebel against those in authority.  Rock music has symbolized rebellion for as long as it has existed, and in the 1980’s that rebellion often took the form of makeup and dyed hair.

The performances are excellent.  Ferdia Walsh Peelo handles a very tough role and makes it look natural, hey conveys the anxiety of the new kid in school perfectly, he has to also be head over heels in love with Raphina, not only does he do that, he makes their relationship seem real, and natural.  And he sings all the songs on the soundtrack.  It is an amazing performance. He is only 17, which makes the performance all the more amazing. Lucy Boynton also plays a complex role, Raphina’s family life is far from perfect, but she hangs on to her dream of being a model in London, as well.  She’s not in love with Conor at first, but sees his talent, and gets caught up in his dream was well.  Boynton conveys the transition from liking someone to loving someone very well, and escaping her own problems through her own dreams, and through Conor’s dreams as well.  The chemistry between the two is excellent, and Boynton is only 22. Jack Reynor is also very good as Conor’s older brother Brendan, he always encourages Brendan to aim higher and do more with his talent, there is also a brotherly chemistry between Reynor and Peelo.  The rest of the ensemble cast play their parts perfectly.

The director John Carney wrote and directed this film, and he was born in in 1972 in Dublin, so this could very well be an autobiographical story for him.  He gets amazing performances from his young cast, and those videos Sing Street makes look very much like 1980’s MTV.  The band’s jam sessions also look like buddies getting together to sing and play, and captures the joy of creating music well. Also, the big Back to the Future song and dance was filmed very well.  The only qualm I have is that the band sounded very good almost immediately.  That never happens.

Sing Street:  Music to my ears.

 

 

rocknroll hof 2016

 

The latest induction ceremony features the induction of Deep Purple, Steve Miller, Chicago, Cheap Trick, and NWA.

I’m a little young to remember Deep Purple from its origins, but Richie Blackmore is one of the best hard rock guitarists out there.  Everybody who’s ever picked up a guitar, including me, a lousy garage band bassist, knows the chard progression on “Smoke on the Water.”  It’s the first song anyone learns to play on the guitar.  Blackmore wasn’t at the ceremony, and that was a big hole in the live performance.  The other band members hardly mentioned him.  There’s still some bad blood between band members I guess. I didn’t know David Coverdale was the lead singer for a while, he can still belt it out.  I hate Lars Ulrich, drummer from Metallica, who inducted Deep Purple, he sued Napster and put them out of business, some rebel.  He’s a pompous jerk, if ever there was one.

Steve Miller was always one of my favorite singer/guitar players growing up, he wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 1970’s “Rockin’ Me,” Jet Airliner” “Jungle Love” and of course “The Joker.” Anyone who can write “Really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree,” is a hero of mine.  He did not disappoint with the live performance, and I did not know he had such an extensive background in blues guitar. His godfather was Les Paul for crying out loud, how many people can say that?  Then he ripped the induction committee after the show.  That’s a rock star. He is the pompatuse of love, whatever the heck that is. Something struck me in his introduction, he said he didn’t care how he looked or dressed like, it was all about the music.  Today’s musicians are more interested in image over anything else.

I always thought Chicago was a unique idea for a rock band, a rock band with a horn section.  They were mainstays of AM radio in the 70’s, and “25 or 6 to 4.” And “Saturday in the Park” are just great, well-constructed songs, and that horn section proved they can still play, as they demonstrated in the live performance.  Peter Cetera went really mainstream in the 80’s, and that was a bit disheartening, but Chicago is a great band.  Is Rob Thomas the only guy they could find to induct Chicago?

I also like Cheap Trick.  Rick Neilson, the guitarist is an interesting character.  Their songs land somewhere between punk, New Wave and hard rock.  I love “Way of The World and “Dream Police.”  Neilson did something great during his acceptance speech, I won’t give it away but I think it was the best moment of the night.  Kid Rock, Cheap Trick inductor, find a new career, pal.

I never liked NWA, not because they’re a rap band and this is a rock induction, that’s silly, but I never that of them as a true rap group, there was nothing gangster about them.  Before NWA, Dr. Dre was wearing makeup and glittery clothes.  Even in their acceptance speeches, they all talked about wat a good businessman Easy E was, and that’s all rap was to them a way to make money, and to prove that point, Ice Cube does family themed movies like “Are We There Yet”, and Dre makes deals with Apple.  Real gangsta fellas! But Ice Cube did say something true in his speech, he said rap music embodied a spirit of rebellion, and when done right, it certainly does.  Kendrick Lamar inducted them.  As a rapper from Compton it makes sense.  I haven’t heard anything by him, so I can’t comment on his music.

And oh by the way, Gene Simmons can put a sock in it, Kiss was not a great rock band, don’t believe me, listen to “Beth” sometime, those are some awful vocals. A group that wore makeup and a man who spits blood on stage is hardly in a position to criticize anyone.  If I was Gene Simmons, I would be more worried that groups like U2, Bruce and The E Street Band and even Foo Fighters are in their 40’s 50’s and 60’s, and there’s no one in their wake to pick up the mantle. Rock is dying Gene Simmons, and you criticize rap?  Wake the hell up.

The remembrance of Glenn Frey by Sheryl Crowe seemed a little half-hearted.  The David Bowie tribute by David Byrne of The Talking Heads was better.  The group song was not that good either.

Rock ‘N Roll will never die, but it’s on life support.

Joe Bonamassa

Hey Baby (Rising Sun) A Hendrix cover that sounds like Hendrix. Mission accomplished

Oh Beautiful:  Sounds more like a rock song, the opening guitar riff and bridge sound like Led Zep with Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar solo, bur the notes in the solo at times seem too fast and too well-phrased for the song. Vocals sound like Paul Rodgers of Bad Company.

Love Ain’t a Love Song:  Sounds like The Temptations “Ball of Confusion“ with horns from  the Lenny Kravitz song “Always on the Run.”

Living on The Moon: More a Traditional B.B. King type blues song. There’s a Stevie Ray Vaughn sounding solo. Vocals again sound like Paul Rodgers

Heartache Follows Wherever I Go:  Original chord phrasing in the opening progression, guitar solo is too clean every note perfect, too fast for a blues solo.  Vocals again sound like Paul Rodgers

Never Give All Your Heart:  Sounds more like a rock, power ballad.  Vocals sound like Paul Rodgers or Doug Pinnick from King’s X .  Really reminds me of a Bad Company meets the Who type song. Something like Love Reign O’er  Me” More like a rock solo, arena rock power ballad. Another try at an original song  Keyboards by Johnathan Cain of Journey.

Gave Up Everything For You Cept the Blues:  Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar all throughout the song  riff, solos, chord phrasing. It’s too derivative.

Different Shades of Blue:  Opening sounds like “Hotel California” from the Eagles more of a traditional rock song with a Crowded House organ, Paul Rodgers vocal, original opening phrasing, less bluesy solo, faster solo.

Get Back My Tomorrow:  Vocals sound like Doug Pinnick or Gary Clark Jr. , again it sounds more like a rock song, Stevie Ray guitar solo but cleaner.

Trouble Town Blues Song dominated by horns vocals like Gary Clark Jr. Doug Pinnick, King’s X sounding guitar.  Interesting bridge to solo, Interesting solo.

So What Should I do?  Slower blues gospel tinged song slow piano Vocals sound Don Henley-ish not many effects on guitar, maybe a little reverb fits the song.probably my favorite blues song on the album, because of its simplicity .

 

I like the songs that are a departure from his blues roots like Heartache Follows Wherever I Go, Oh Beautiful, Never Give All Your Heart, in these songs Bonamassa fuses rock and blues.  His blues songs sound to derivative, either like B.B. King, or Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the solos on the songs sound too clean, too fast to sound authentic.

When Hendrix or Billy Gibbons, or BB King, or Stevie or Jimmie Vaughn played the blues the phrasing might not be perfect, but the feeling was there.  Bonamassa’s playing is almost too perfect, almost robotic, and the songs are overproduced, too slick sounding for blues.  Blues has to capture a feeling for me, there were no feelings here.

Different Shade of Blue: Just an ordinary Joe.

Lady Day

Billie Holiday (Audra McDonald) performs in a bar in Philadelphia in February 1959, four month before her death, she performs with her band featuring piano player Jimmy Powers. (Sheldon Becton)

I don’t know a lot about Billie Holiday’s songs, I know a few, “God Bless The Child, “Summertime.” “Strange Fruit.”  McDonald sings those and lots more.  The singing is amazing, but what is really revelatory is Audra McDonald’s performance.  She is alternatively side-splittingly funny, and heartbreaking in her patter with the audience and her band member, all in the context of a concert.  This is a performance punctuated by colorful language and a boozy melancholy. The viewer actually learns about aspects of Billie Holiday’s life during the patter, and that is both excellent writing and excellent acting.  I expected wonderful singing, but the way Audra McDonald immersed herself in this role was incredible.  In the more poignant moments she would break off in the middle of a song, stirred by some painful memory, and have to be coaxed back into singing by Jimmy Powers.  A one woman show is a very difficult thing to do, all eyes are on the performer, and there is no room for error.  Why isn’t Audra McDonald on some director’s short list for a dramatic role?  I’ll tell you why, because she’s been pigeonholed as a Broadway actress and singer, so she’s offered secondary roles in tv shows and tv musicals.  That’s a shame.  There aren’t enough superlatives to write to adequately praise this performance.

There isn’t a lot of direction in this film, it’s pretty much the audience’s view of Billie Holiday singing in a  dive bar, but at times, the director zooms in on McDonald’s face, and the viewer can see tears falling while she sings “Strange Fruit” that is very emotional indeed.  And so this is the way this film draws the viewer in with tight shots of McDonald’s face or body.  These kinds of shots emphasize the intimacy of the performance.

Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill:  It made my day.