Carol Schmidt and friends played the Kranzberg Center last night in what she called a cabaret performance, but which felt more like an evening at someone's home, pickin' and cluckin' and having a high old time. At least the musicians did, and they will repeat tonight.
Schmidt and Michele Isam, part of the late, lamented group Jasmine, along with singers Deborah Sharn, Robert Breig and Dionna Raedeke and bassist Ric Vice crowded the small Kranzberg stage, making for awkward entrances and exists. A microphone that would not stay in place upstaged Schmidt in several songs, and some fluffed lines here and there added to the amateurish feel of the evening.
Schmidt sounded a little hoarse at times, but she knows how to deliver a song, and her piano work on "Joie de Vivre," which she called a tribute to Thelonius Monk, was simply wonderful. Vice, on a string bass, added beauty on top of beauty. It was the high spot.
Isam, playing bongos, and a saxophone for one number, was a major, and consistent, distraction. Her almost-violent head and facial movements, often with her eyes closed, demanded attention while Schmidt or another singer was supposedly at center stage. When Isam was singing, everyone else was totally still, offering respectful attention.
Most of the songs were by Schmidt, and she often has a clever touch with lyrics. A George Washington-George Sand reference to flying bugs in a song remembering time in a U. City Loop apartment was delightful, and she continued by describing them as "armed and dangerous" while they headed for a Hill named Blueberry.
Too many songs, however, seemed to need filler material, provided by lyrics of "ooh, ooh, ooh," or "la, la, la," or "woo, woo, woo," or even "yippie-eye-oh-ki-ay," though the latter song offered some delightful references to "jumpers have cables, fish nets have gills."
"Big hair and a big purse make you look thinner," a line that would have been a show-stopper a generation ago, remains solid, even though it's out of date.
Schmidt and Sharn offfered a lovely rendition of "Leo,": with moments of swinging scat here and there, and Isam joined them for some terrific work on a tribute to Harriet Tubman, a major influence on the Underground Railroad that carried slaves to freedom in the days before the Civil War. Schmidt's own tender love song, "Dreaming of Carmel," did justice to that beautiful California oceanside town, and she wrapped the evening with a rollicking rendition of "Seven-Day Kiss," a highlight of the Sweet Honey in the Rock canon.
Carol Schmidt and friends continue today at 8 p.m. at the Kranzberg Center for the Arts