By Don Heckman
Studio City, CA. Sally Kellerman was at Vitello’s again Wednesday night. So were a lot of the songs she sang in her previous few bookings at the venue. And it occurred to me that – if Sally was going to repeat the same material — then I might as well also repeat some of my comments about those previous reviews. For full disclosure, I’ll print those previous comments in italics.
She started her set, appropriately, given the approaching holiday with “My Funny Valentine.” But the next six tunes – “How Sweet It Is,” “The Look of Love.” “Walk on By,” “Spooky,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” – were done in an identical sequence she’s used in the past — more than once.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. At her best – which is almost always the case, Sally’s performances are all utterly mesmerizing. And this one was no exception, despite the repetitious material. Hearing (and seeing) Sally wrap up her set with “Don’t You Feel My Leg” is only one of the many pleasures she offers.
And what became crystal clear – in these repeated numbers, as well as such newer items in the Kellerman catalog as Hall & Oates “Say It Isn’t So” — was the utterly appropriate believability that Sally brought to each of her interpretations.
Yes, she’s an experienced actress as well as a singer, but it wasn’t just theatrical skills that she brought to her songs, as she moved with consummate ease across a stunning gamut of musical emotions. Some were hilarious – as when she wound up singing one of the songs while reclining on the floor. Others had the bold and brassy touch of a blues singer. Still others had the intimacy of expressive whispers in one’s ear.
In addition to the older blues-oriented tunes, Sally’s set was enriched by songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, done in her own fashion. And one couldn’t help but speculate that a recording devoted to material from the period could help bring Sally’s inimitable talents to an audience that still thinks of her as Hot Lips. Even though she is much more. At her best, and in a crowded female vocal field, she is one of the rare true originals.
Those previous four paragraphs, describing her past performances, are completely applicable to Wednesday night’s appearance. All of which underscores the extent of her abilities. The songs may have been sung before, but what she brought to them was the expressive authenticity of a true musical story-teller. Now its time for Sally to find more stories to tell.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.