“Oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, yeah.” Thus began William Blake’s much-anticipated tribute to the late, great Etta James. And as I heard his voice singing those words, I felt a slight chill of excitement, for he seemed to be echoing my feelings exactly – I had a good, no, a GREAT feeling about this show. And boy, was I right! Right from that first line of that first song (“Something’s Got A Hold On Me”) through the very last note of his encore, “Tell Mama,” Mr. Blake’s show was a thrilling ride through the Etta James songbook.
Now, one might wonder what a young man like Mr. Blake, a fresh-faced, Dallas, TX, transplant is doing, taking on the Etta James repertoire. However, I cannot think of a single voice more uniquely suited to this venture that that of Mr. Blake. Soulful and passionate, with an astronomical range, Mr. Blake’s voice simply soars on Ms. James’ material. As one would expect, the show included many of Ms. James’ biggest hits, including “The Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry)”, which she recorded in her early days with The Peaches, “Sunday Kind of Love,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” but also some lesser known gems, such as a duet entitled “If I Can’t Have You,” which she recorded with Harvey Fuqua. For this number, musical director Michael Murray served as Mr. Blake’s duet partner, and the result was phenomenal. And speaking of Mr. Murray, I’d be remiss if I didn’t single him out for his superb arrangements in this show. True to the original feel of the songs, yet catered specifically for William and his unique talents, the arrangements were spot-on throughout the entire evening. They were beautifully carried out by the band, which was composed of Mr. Murray on keys, Steve Kelly on drums, Oscar Bautista on guitar, Mike Preen on bass, Matthew Polashek on sax, and Stephany Mora, Shira Elias and Ashley Betton on backup vocals.
Of course, no Etta James tribute would be complete without her signature song, “At Last,” and Mr. Blake’s rendition of this was just out-of-this world terrific. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mr. Blake grow from a new kid in town, trying out a song or two at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, to a monster, force-of-nature talent, and I believe that this show truly solidifies his status as one of the most talented performers working in the city today. Pipes, passion, and an infectious exuberance are the hallmarks of his performance technique, and in this show, they all come together in absolute perfect harmony, so to speak.
By popular demand, Mr. Blake will be presenting an encore performance of his show at Birdland on Monday, August 20th at 7:00 p.m. Run, don’t walk to get your tickets – this is one show you do NOT want to miss! For more information, please visit www.birdlandjazz.com. To read the Cabaret Chronicles exclusive interview with William (published on 5/29/12), click here!
Photo by Derek Storm