Famous for her Tonight Show Band gig but little known on her own, Vicki Randle was the secret weapon Cris Williamson brought to the Eighth Step at Proctors GE Theater on Saturday.
Williamson said Randle (only age 18 when Williamson first heard her) was a “ferocious singer.” Randle was this and more, playing second guitar and solos, and harmonizing with Williamson. More than 30 years after her pioneering “The Changer and the Changed” album Cris Williamson has kept growing, returning to her prairie roots on her latest album “Fringe” with its frontier flavor.
The geography on Randle’s mind was New Orleans, which she visited in the brand-new songs “The Road Home,” decrying in a sad, stately blues the failure of that program to return people to the flood-wrecked city, and “Slip Away,” portraying poor people as the heart and soul of the city and mourning their absence in a passionate R&B howl. Randle also gazed at the wreckage that lost love leaves in the heart with “I’ve Been Thinking,” which she set up by warning “don’t piss off a songwriter,” and “It’s My Life,” in which she announced she was leaving.
Randle, however, didn’t steal the show. Williamson touched only briefly on fans’ nostalgia, starting with “Songbird,” a mission statement; celebrating “Wild Things” and their wild ways; and the things that make her “Cry, Cry, Cry;” and offering a sweet lullaby to close. She also portrayed her prairie past in “Fringe,” title track of her new album, honoring lives lived in places “full of empty;” and compared friend Teresa Trull to a sorrel horse in the happy, lilting “Alazan.”
Like Randle, however, Williamson was inspired by New Orleans, honoring the enterprising and courageous Charmaine Neville with “Warm Strong Love” for rescuing neighbors, kin and pets with a flatboat and a stolen bus. Many of these songs were new, and the ingenious, supportive interplay between Williamson and Randle made them sound fresh rather than raw, even when they forgot the words or fought their guitars’ intonation. As they started their second set, Williamson said she couldn’t sing the melodies that Randle made sound so effortless without dropping an ice cube down her back; and as Randle hit a spectacular wordless flourish in the missing-you lament “Feeding the Cat,” Williamson tugged her collar back and mimed dropping an ice cube inside. After their voices wove around each other in “Warm Strong Love,” Randle said they were making up their harmonies on the spot. Yet they sounded so smooth and seamless that singalongs usually failed: no one wanted to mess up the two-voice blend.
Williamson would have had no trouble holding the audience alone since her agile alto carries her songs, old or new, with singular grace and confidence. With Randle at her side, she sang even better, confident that the younger singer would place just the right note beside each of hers, or in rhythmically astute counterpoint. Randle’s sound is somewhere between Joan Armatrading and Linda Tillery, but she has a soaring quality all her own that lifted the songs and the show.
Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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Categories: Life and Arts