Live Music: Inner Voices at Vitello’s

By Don Heckman

A group of world class singers appearing on the same stage can often be a recipe for rampant egomania.  But not when the singers – Morgan Ames, Julie Delgado, Deborah Dietrich, Shelby Flint, Sheri Izzard and Michael Mishaw — are the members of the vocal ensemble Inner Voices.  The performance of this gifted collective Vitello’s Friday night was a sterling display of vocal togetherness in all its manifestations – from superb soloing to rich-textured harmonic artistry.

Given the busy schedules of each of the singers, their live performances together are rare, and one of the pleasures of the Southland holiday season is Inner Voices’ annual Christmas performance.  This year, it was enhanced by the recent release of their latest album, Valentine, which provided some newly written and arranged tunes to accompany the more familiar seasonal items.

Deborah Dietrich, Shelby Flint, Sheri Izzard, Morgan Ames, Michael Mishaw

The program was a non-stop banquet of musical goodies, often enhanced by the presence of such guest singers as Jim Gilstrap and Randy Crenshaw’s vocal ensemble Cleanup Crue.  Appropriately, the first few numbers had a holiday orientation: the spiritual rhythms of “De King Is Born Today” featuring Flint and Mishaw; Flint’s crystalline soprano on “Carol of the Bells”; and Mishaw’s tender baritone on “This Time of the Year.”

A musical shift of gears led to a high spirited romp through Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” “Quietly There” (a lovely song written by Ames and Johnny Mandel) and Delgado’s spirited reading of “Come On Back Where You Belong” (by Ames and Dave Grusin).

If that sounds like a lot of music, in a lot of compelling styles, that’s exactly what it was.  And it was just the beginning of a set that added much more.  Among the many highlights: Izzard’s plaintive “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”; a hilarious “Hawaiian Christmas Song” featuring sliding, steel guitar-like vocal sounds and faux Hawaiian chants; Flint’s lovely version of her song, “Paper Boat”; Dietrich leading the way in “Oj Jabuko,” a Croatian carol; another high comedy moment with Cleanup Crue’s “Christmas In L.A. Again”; and the touching, ancient, Christmas-evocative “Cherry Tree Carol.”

All that and more in this memorable holiday performance, enhanced by Ames’ beautifully crafted arrangements.  And as with previous Inner Voices appearances, the only regret is that this superb congregation of artists offers so few live performances.  So, with an album titled, Valentine, can we expect to see them again around mid-February?  The happy answer is “yes.”  Inner Voices return to Vitello’s on Saturday, February 12.  Expect to hear “My Funny Valentine” and a lot more.

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