Remy Block

December 10, 2016 | By

Remy BlockSinger Remy Block returned to Pangea with a revised version of her earlier show “On a Lonely Road: Travelin’ with Joni”—her tribute to Joni Mitchell. Her love of the iconic singer/songwriter was obvious, but she often failed to translate that feeling into successful takes on her songs. Mitchell’s lyrics/stories are often at a remove from being in the first person/present time, and even the ones that do fall into that category have a reserve and an intellectual distance that is usually matched by the melodies, which magically make the words even more intimate.

Block sang a lot of them in an open-faced, indicating style that lacks a certain sophistication, and in doing so, approached a kind of cabaret overacting. She is in the moment of individual lyrics and images at all times with a full frontal attack that is often at the expense of the more cerebral material. She has chosen mostly well-known songs, but she opens with an early, rare one, “Urge for Going,” which I first heard on a Tom Rush album in the sixties. Her broad style kicked in right away and lasted through “Hissing of Summer Lawns” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” “All I Want,” a delight from the Blue album, was set up by a highly theatrical miming of smoking a joint and “talking stoned.” When it came time to actually sing it, she tried so hard to distance it from its original recording, that she drained it of its energy and humor.

“People’s Parties” afforded her a moment to just tell the story without histrionics; it was her most effective performance of the evening. She rocked out on “Black Crow” and connected with it in a way I wish had happened more often; she was actually having fun and was not focused on “acting.” Her closer, “Both Sides Now,” was the closest to Mitchell’s arrangement, but this did not prevent it from being a simple, lovely, affecting rumination.

With Mitchell’s later, jazzier material, like “Night Ride Home” and “Last Chance Lost,” Block seemed unable to maneuver the arrangements—almost as if she were singing a translation of the words that didn’t quite fit their original meaning. Pianist Gregory Toroian’s arrangements (with Steve Millhouse on bass and Ron Tierno on drums) were thoughtful and stylish, and served up much of the subtle cool missing from the vocals. I had one serious reservation about the music, however: too many times (especially in the first five numbers, but again and again later on) the vocal ended on a low energy note and then the music just faded out with little relevance to the arrangement we had just heard. It was like letting the air slowly out of a balloon no matter how buoyant that balloon might have been just seconds before.

If one is going to do a tribute show to a master wordsmith, the patter had better be brief or brilliant, and in this case it was neither. Much of it was written and delivered with an eye to literary import, but ended up sounding like an amateur poetry slam. In addition, the actual content of the patter seemed at best tenuously connected to the song that followed. Some reworking by Block and her director, Raquel Cion, is needed; in the state it was in when I attended, the show was a decidedly mixed bag and would probably appeal more to Joni Mitchell novices than to aficionados.

“On a Lonely Road: Travelin’ with Joni”
Pangea  –  November 7, December 8

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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