By Tulis McCall
Well now. Haven’t I been having a run of good times around town at cabaret watering holes?? With this writing I add Amanda McBroom to my list of extraordinary events. McBroom (you HAVE to love that name. HAVE TO.) was toasted recently by Barbara Bleier and Austin Pendleton in “Beautiful Mistake”. So suddenly I am familiar with a living (and legendary) composer. Imagine that!
Last Monday, June 5th, Birdland was packed to the rafters with a loving, appreciative and smart audience. McBroom was there to promote her most recent CD, Voices. New York is a favorite place for McBroom – Carnegie Hall, Broadway, The Strand Bookstore. “You have a bookstore!!!” Speaking about books led her to pay homage to The Joy of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
In the interest of full disclosure, I, too, own this book. I have not read it because I cannot find it.
Anyhoo, seems like Ms. Kondo set off a little firestorm for McBroom who decided to use the book as inspiration for cleaning up her music studio. In doing so she came across a passel of material that was too good to leave alone. The songs were on 8 tracks, cassettes and digital audio tapes – each one more intriguing than the other. McBroom determined that these must be transferred to her computer to save them from disappearing altogether. Now they are free to run among us. Good.
Each song is a universe in itself. Each is a story of a woman in a different part of her life. Old Love (McBroom/Brourman) is the story of a rediscovered childhood love. Feet of Clay (McBroom/Bailey/Bonagura) brings us into the middle of a romance that is imperfect and peculiar and true.
McBroom was joined by splendid musicians to whom she referred as the “the Amazing Her Band,” which was a name bestowed by an enthusiastic reception committee in Taiwan. The main staple is Musical Director/Accompanist and longtime collaborator Michele Brourman, and on this night she was joined by Jered Egan on Bass and Eli Zoller on Guitar.
Our table was next to that of the delightful Julie Gold who penned From A Distance. McBroom gifted us with Southbound Train also by Gold. This is the story of a ride on a train, that ride we have all had, where the train rocks us into reminiscing about childhood, past seasons, and love. Watching Gold soak up McBroom’s performance was watching the highest of compliments. She was in Heaven listening to her own song in the hands of McBroom.
Reynosa is dedicated to McBroom’s high school romance, or wanna be romance. He of the letterman club who dated the valedictorian vs. McBroom who was salutatorian and marching away in the band. It was a time of six packs, and sitting by canals until they discovered Saturday nights in Reynosa.
McBroom stripped the trimmings from 12th of Never (Livingston/Webster), and revealed it to be a stunning and pure love song. Sometimes (McBroom) is the voice of a woman “My sometime was one time with you…,” whose memories drift up in front of her along with the smell of clean laundry and the chores that life requires. Help/Thanks/Wow (McBroom/Brourman) is based on a book by Annie Lamott of the same name. Each word is a prayer, and the resulting combo is an antidote to the freak show that is playing out on our public stage. She gave a nod to Come From Away and saluted the character who was the mother of a firefighter on 9/11 with Yarnell Hill (McBroom/Brourman). If you listened carefully you could hear the audience hearts shattering into tiny pieces.
McBroom is one of the most generous performers in her praise for everyone involved in the performance, particularly Michele Brourman, who she has known since 1974. She happily gave Brourman the stage for their You’re Only Old Once (McBroom/Brourman). Another nod to the present was crafted to perfection with McBroom’s version of Carousel (Brel/Blau). I heard her sing this a few years ago, before the election, but it has a whole new relevance these days. This one stopped the show with several people leaping to their feet to applaud and cheer.
As if there was a heart in the room that was not already broken, McBroom did a swan dive directly into the center of The Rose – the song that her husband George Ball says put Bette Midler on the map, not the other way around. She invited us to sing with her. And of course we did. We could not help ourselves.
There were more thanks to go around, including our host at Birdland, Jim Caruso, the wait staff, the light board and sound operator Rob, and her CD producer, Fred Mollin, as well as Sheldon Harnick who was in the audience. The mention of Mollin lead McBroom into the announcement that on her CD, The Rose is a duet with Vince Gill. And in McBroom’s key. Ahem.
Finally, McBroom flattened us all by tossing Hope Floats out over us like a favorite cotton throw that still smells like your grandmother. Something old fashioned like White Shoulders or Tweed or Arpege. It soared over us like an angel before it caught in our throats and settled in our hearts, touching places that we usually keep hidden.
Amanda McBroom is a treasure. Period. She lifts you up, and when she sets you back in your seat, you are richer than when she first found you. That is her doing, her mission, her gift.