[JPL] Phoebe Snow Returns, Her Arsenal Still Intact

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 29 17:35:41 EDT 2007

October 26, 2007
Music Review | Phoebe Snow
Phoebe Snow Returns, Her Arsenal Still Intact 
A superabundance of vocal talent can confuse not only
listeners trained by the record industry and radio to
pigeonhole every artist within a snug little niche but
also the singer who possesses it. But as Phoebe Snow
demonstrated on Wednesday at Birdland, it doesn’t
matter how you describe her; she is a phenomenon unto
herself. A fully formed musical talent when she
emerged in the mid-1970s with the hit “Poetry Man,”
she has changed little since then, except that
nowadays she rations out her arsenal of vocal
pyrotechnics more discreetly and to more precise
expressive effect than she used to. She still has
power to spare, along with a sound that is at once
instantly recognizable and technically inimitable.

You can call her what you want: a rock belter with
supersonic high notes (“Rockin’ Pneumonia and the
Boogie Woogie Flu”), a rhythm-and-blues shouter
insisting on sexual equality (“Do Right Woman, Do
Right Man”) or a moody coffee-voiced folk-jazz diva
(“Poetry Man”). She is all of the above and everything
in between.

Ms. Snow, who was accompanied by an excellent quartet
(Roger Butterly on guitar and mandolin, John Korba on
keyboards, Skip Ward on bass and Shannon Ford on
drums), dedicated the opening show of a four-night
engagement to her daughter, Valerie, who died in March
at the age of 31. At the expense of her own career,
Ms. Snow had devoted her life to caring for Valerie,
who was born severely brain-injured. She confessed
that after Valerie’s death, she didn’t know if she
herself would survive. She has resumed performing, she
said, because there is nothing else to do.

Her caretaking experience has profoundly shaped Ms.
Snow’s songwriting, which even in the days of “Poetry
Man” was overshadowed by her vocal prowess. Two
numbers in her set on Wednesday, the title song of her
obscure 2003 album “Natural Wonder” and “The Other
Girlfriend” (from the same album), showed her gift for
writing solid pop hooks. 

Although Ms. Snow joked about her reputation as a
kook, the personality she revealed was that of a much
sadder and wiser woman who is steadfast where it
counts. With lyrical adjustments, “I’m Your Girl,” a
song she wrote for her mother in the late 1980s, has
become “You’re My Girl,” a tribute to Valerie, which
Ms. Snow delivered in a penetrating alto using her
wide vibrato to convey the heavy emotional weight of a
musician who knows that there are things that matter
even more than music.

Phoebe Snow continues through tomorrow night at
Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, Clinton; (212)


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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