By Don Heckman
Hollywood, CA. There was a distinct feeling of time warp in the air Friday night during Rita Coolidge’s performance at Catalina Bar & Grill. “Nostalgia” couldn’t quite describe the experience of hearing her embracing voice singing “Superstar,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “You’re Love Takes Me Higher,” and more.
I first heard Coolidge in the very early ‘70s, when I reviewed her for the New York Times. Can’t remember if it was at the Bitter End or the Village Gate, but I do recall Kris Kristofferson coming on stage and dueting with her in very intimate fashion. I’m guessing it was during the romantic build up to their marriage in 1973.
Nothing like that took place in her performance at Catalina’s. Except, that is, for a cozy duet that Coolidge sang with her drummer, Lynn Coulter, on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Not exactly the song one would expect on a warm spring night in Hollywood, but well done, nonetheless.
Beyond the time warp (and the nostalgia) Coolidge offered a memorable set of tunes that included a standard or two, as well as the ‘70s songs most closely associated with her early career. She opened her set, in fact, with “Come Rain or Come Shine,” sung with gentle rhythms and the sort of warm, communicative musical story telling that is at the heart of her interpretive style.
Describing her affection for Peggy Lee’s singing and songwriting, Coolidge also included such Lee-associated classics as “I Don’t Know Enough About You” and the incomparable “Fever,” delivered with a distinct rock edge from her versatile four piece band.
Other tunes, tracing to different periods in her career, demanded different approaches, and Coolidge handled them all with ease. Among them: Allen Toussaint’s “Basic Lady”; a version of “Amazing Grace” (sung in the Cherokee language) that she described as a song she heard in her Cherokee childhood; “We’re All Alone”; I”d Rather Leave”; and “How Sweet It Is.”
There were more high points, all of them the product of the warm, engaging professional entertainer Coolidge has become in her mature years. She has, after all, had hits on the pop, country, adult contemporary and jazz charts.
And what made this evening special was the seamless way in which Coolidge moved from one style to another, from one song to another, while maintaining the stylistic integrity of each. The “Delta Lady” described by Leon Russell in the song he wrote for her, has been transformed into an interpretive musical artist of the first rank.
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Rita Coolidge photo by Bob Barry.
Rita Coolidge and Lynn Colter photo, and Rita Coolidge band photo by Faith Frenz.