By David Finkle
"Book of Love"
Metropolitan Room – October 18, 25, November 20
Looking for love in all the right and wrong places, finding it, losing it, recovering from it, disdaining it, choking on it, floating on it, discombobulated by it—Kathleen France is only the latest boite denizen to make it the theme of a gig. And trust me on this, she won't be the last. The reason is simple. Some as-yet-undisclosed percentage of popular songs are, heaven help us, concerned with love. When singers go looking for songs to sing, there are all those beckoning love songs like Circe and her galfriends on the shore.
France calls her Metropolitan Room show "Book of Love," and apparently the love ditties appealed to her because—at just short of 40—she has yet to find the great love she's been hoping to find for quite some time. I think she even mentions the number of days she's said, or sung, to herself the hope-springs-eternal phrase, "I Know It's Today." It was something like 14,000-plus. Or maybe she's just echoing the statistic given in the song "I Know It's Today," which David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori wrote for the soon-to-shutter "Shrek The Musical."
Whatever France is doing, she's doing it with a rock singer's force. Oh, she can modulate her tones, all right, usually by shifting from her chest voice into her head voice. When she does, however, she begins to have pitch problems she needs to see to. Yet, staying with the belt isn't always rewarding. When she got to the end of Roy Orbison's "Crying" (which she braided with Bill Withers's "Ain't No Sunshine") and the lyric "crying over you," she might just as well have been singing "screaming over you."
But those cavils don't add up to overriding detriments. The tall warbler, who performs under a Louise Brooks bob and with the immeasurable aid of director Lina Koutrakos, has a helluva good time waxing and waning about her love history and prospects. Plus which she's ably backed by pianist-musical director Tracy Stark of the rockin' arrangements, guitarist Jamie Fox (the night I was there), bassist Skip Ward, drummer Dave Silliman, and singers Wendy Anne Russell and Joshua Judge.
She consistently amuses herself—and therefore the audience—with various comedic tropes. Particularly funny is the chart on eligible men she hauls out to accompany the advice she gives on Sippy Wallace's "Women Be Wise" with its repeated dictum, "Don't advertise your man." Another thing about her: Although none of the selections was written for her, she has the knack of making many of them sound like extremely well-tailored special material.
Lastly, France has the savvy to sing Rusty Magee's "New York Romance," one of the most realistic songs ever written about the Big Apple and its sometimes bruised skin. She gets every nuance the late tunesmith built into it. That's to say that in line with Dolly Parton's "It's All Wrong, But It's All Right," which she gives a rousing reading, France gets some of the set wrong but far more of it right.