By Holli Harms
Sometimes you have to demand that an artist be put on everyone’s list, that no excuses can be made, that their lives will be better for the experience, Amber Gray is that artist. So go! Go! Whenever and wherever she is performing you will be the better for it. Her singing is astronomical. I could say she sings like an angel but angels don’t simmer and boil flames and sparks of fire. They don’t purr moments of love, of sadness, and on the other end, of anger. No, Amber Gray is no angel thank goodness she is a Dragon of history and depth and flames and fire and burning resilience. Amber is a force to be reckoned with, a magnetic, no BS, nuanced performer who will have you wanting to belly up to her bar and drink in all she offers.
Her evening, Amber Gray: Gray Matter at the always marvelous 54 Below, is a blues, jazz, rock n roll, come-to-church night of eclectic superlative songs. Songs about the human condition and all its messy ways. It is a pure night of Amber and her crystal clear voice, and her musical director and accompanist on piano, guitar, and accordion Cody Owen Stine. The two of them create before us the dark and light of the world, the beauty of us, and the hate and anger that resides in the corners. Amber sings, “Are My Hands Clean” music and Lyrics by Bernice Johnson Reason, and slavery from the south of this country to the far reaches of the world has light shown brightly upon it and we are all accountable.
Amber was in relaxed pants and top, as she had just gotten off the plane from Morocco and only made it to the theater. Maybe because of this timing, it was as if we had a great friend who invited us to her home and we are all in her kitchen hanging out, talking, and enjoying a meal of song that tastes of the truth of life in all of its exquisiteness and injustices and humor. The evening was more than a perfect engagement of performer and audience; it was life-changing, life-affirming, stupendous.
Her overall theme of the evening was “How to live well.” Not because of fame and fortune and what you have acquired, but by what you will leave behind, what are you doing to make a difference? Amber’s ravishing delivery of “Are You Leaving For The Country” by Karen Dalton asks what is real and reminds us that in the quiet of the country, we can find peace. Then by Heather Christian’s “ Burnin Down” with the lyrics “I think somebody is burning down my country…” and we were given an understanding of the huge obstacle of hate that is once again a dust storm layering over the land. As a parent, the song that hit me deep and truthfully is Aisha Kahill’s ”On Children.” It is a reminder that our children are not our property, not our mirror images, they are themselves. And then there is Regina Spector’s “The Ghost of Corporate Future” that Amber sings with a lovely smooth rendition and as we listen to her and realize the horror of corporate life and its hold on individuals we see the absurd existence of life in a time of making more, acquiring more, getting more, that sacrifices the pure depth and joy of living.
Amber Gray’s voice and her presence are phenomenal. Thank you Amber for sharing your talent and passions with us. Thank you Cody for sharing yours and adding to the momentous evening at 54 Below.
54 Below 254 W 54th ST. Cellar, NYC 10019
TICKETS & INFO: (646) 476-3551