The Rainbow Connection
When I was about nine-years-old, my mom had a record called, “I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road.” I never listened to it myself. I never had to; it was on the record player incessantly.
The single was called, “Strong Woman Number.” It was a post-ERA, liberation song full of self-awareness and self-discovery.
The album cover was a wildly-curled brunette back-lit by red stage lights.
Which — fast forward thirty years — may as well have been singer/songwriter Jamie Leonhart at her sold-out Joe’s Pub performance tonight.
Jamie’s set was extraordinary, somewhere between jazz, cabaret, Broadway, and the Brill Building. She’s part Carol King, part Fiona Apple, and part Billy Holiday. Her voice… Her voice!
You’ve heard her on “Killing The Blues (from “The Invention Of Everything Else”), you’ve heard her on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (from last year’s “A Family Holiday Benefit”), and you’ll hear her again singing “Blue Christmas” (for this year’s “A Holiday Benefit, Volume II”), but if you haven’t heard her do her thing, you haven’t heard her at all.
Jamie has absolutely exquisite control of her voice. She twists and turn it on a dime, whispers, hums and bellows, and delivers angular, syncopated verses and boldly-sweeping choruses. And she’s always, always at the epicenter of the beat and the note.
Between songs, she is genuinely (and adorably) surprised by the sound of her speaking voice, and the very words she says.
Jamie takes performing seriously (when she came over to record “Blue Christmas” last night, she turned down Abbi’s offer of a glass of wine; “Gig tomorrow,” she said), and she meansevery word she sings.
All of which is what makes Jamie’s shows so special. Here is the sound of a woman at the height of her musical powers wrestling out loud with demons, doubts, and desires. Here is the sound of existential quandary, growth and development, set to song.
Jamie sings about “shedding [her] second skin,” and “dislocating front the mess you made.”
“If I could take away the pain I would,” she sings, “for just one moment the world [would seem] so perfect.”
“Who put these words in my mouth?” she asks.
Even her choice of covers is revealing. In her melancholy version of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” she sings, “You made me forget myself.”
It’s difficult to imagine what my friend, a self-professed “control freak,” should find so necessary to forget: she is immensely gifted, beautiful, and successful. Likewise her husband, Michael. And — for that matter — her eight-piece band.
But that’s what makes Jamie’s shows — and Jamie herself — so special. Her songs deeply and delicately tease out the some core component of the human condition. Who am I? And how do I know? Throughout her stellar performance, I was reminded over and over of a lyric from my very first album, “Bloom.”
“I wonder if I will ever be the kind of man / To stand above ourselves, outside.”
Fifteen years later, I still wonder. And so, apparently — and gratefully — does Jamie.
Nothing’s more appealing than someone whose is great, but humble; strong, but modest; open, but not exposed. And nothing’s more appealing than the courage to be vulnerable, especially dressed-up and well-lit in a room full of strangers.
Set to meticulously-arranged horns, upright bass, drums, and the tightest pianist you know? Makes for one heck of a school night.