Singer/songwriter Ruth Carlin presented her show, "A Light in the Window - Songs of Judy Collins" at THE WEST BANK CAFE/LAURIE BEECHMAN THEATRE (407 West 42nd Street, NYC - 212-695-6909) on May 17th & June 12th - I caught the second show. It's always interesting to see a show that is performed by a songwriter / lyricist, and especially when they perform the songs mostly created by someone other than themselves. Songs are not simply "words and music" - they are living messages from the songwriter / composer to the listener. A songwriter understands that!

I always cringe when a performer wanders away from the thoughts the songwriter was trying to express to spin the words into a totally different message and often sung to a totally modified tune. (Maybe that's why some jazz vocalists "turn me off"). Ms. Carlin, as a songwriter herself, followed the paths laid down by the writers of the songs she performed - while adding her own personality to them. Choosing songs by such contemporaries of Judy Collins as Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Webb - and even Lennon & McCartney, she delivered the thoughts and ideas that were always intertwined with their lyrics. Light on patter, she let the songs do the talking.

Ably supported by musical director Paul Greenwood, on piano, with Dick Sarpola on bass and John Redsecker on drums, Ruth offered an evening that would delight any fan of Ms. Collins - and any lover of the songs of the great "singer-songwriter" era. Her director was Scott Barnes.

In November 2012, I reviewed and raved about Ruth Carlin’s last major cabaret show “Song/Moments” based upon her CD “Moon Song.” Carlin is an extraordinary actress-singer and each new show is an event. Her latest, “A Light in the Window – Songs by Judy Collins” (Laurie Beechman Theatre, June 12th), is an amazing and astonishing tribute to the woman who began as a folk singer in the Sixties and has crossed over into every musical field in her journey, most recently appearing at the White House and the Metropolitan Museum.

If I have to search for a word to describe Carlin’s very distinctive act, I would call it an art song cycle. Again, Carlin has surrounded herself with the best musicians in the business: Paul Greenwood is her musical director and arranger, Dick Sarpola who plays in the pit of “Alladdin” is her bass player, and John Redsecker is on drums. The act is flawlessly paced by Carlin, Greenwood, and her director, Scott Barnes.

The first song is Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning.” Carlin appears on stage in a classy stunning long dress which is tiered to her bodice with black lace on the bodice and on the long sleeves. She stands stage center and sings the words with dramatic meaning. She follows it immediately with “Maid of Constant Sorrow,” the traditional folk song that, when Collins heard it on the radio as a child, motivated her to go out and buy a guitar.

Carlin begins to tell us the background of each selection of Collins that she has chosen. We get “Since You Asked” melded with Carlin’s own “Ghosts of Love,” Leonard Cohen’s tender “Suzanne,” and Collin’s own “Secret Gardens.” The series of ballads are broken by a rocking country western styled “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” Richard Farina’s signature song which the band rocked on.

It is followed by songs by two songwriters named Stephen. Although several singers had recorded the song from “A Little Night Music,“ Judy Collins recorded “Send In The Clowns” and her recording was the first Stephen Sondheim song to make the top of the Billboard charts. It is paired with Stephen Sills “So Begins the Task” and Greenwood’s arrangements perfectly complemented Carlin’s rueful performance.

Carlin states Collins was introduced to Duke Ellington’s music when her blind disc jockey father played “I Don’t Know About You” on his radio show. Carlin lightly swings this standard and she is smart enough on this song, as well as all the others, to include the seldom sung verses.

Another theatre song that Collins recorded and Carlin delivers with a stunning performance is “Pirate Jenny.” Carlin’s acting and singing brought bravos from the audience.

The title of the show is from Judy Collins’ bleak song with hope at the end, “The Blizzard.” It’s a striking rarity and Carlin’s interpretation was a revelation of despair and hope.

Of course, the penultimate number was “Clouds: Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell . Mitchell was an unknown when Collins recorded it. Carlin sang it tenderly and meaningfully, making you think you had never heard all those great lyrics ever before.

The last song? John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “In My Life” sung simply and effectively.

At one point in her patter, Carlin discussed Collins’ universal taste in music and called her not a folk singer, not a pop singer, not a rock singer but a “Universal Singer.” Ruth Carlin certainly demonstrated that. Watch for future dates and I do hope this show will be recorded. It is unquestionably one of the best cabaret shows of the year.

Kevin On Kabaret :: Here’s to the Ladies of June

Singing Judy

I was intrigued to find out about Ruth Carlin’s latest project, "A Light in the Window," a cabaret tribute to Judy Collins-a worthy and overdue subject for such a tribute.



It turns out that the title came from a lyric in Collins’ own composition, "The Blizzard," which came out in the ’90s (long after her hit-making days) and has become a minor classic among aficionados. 



Carlin was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Long Island. Her mother was an actress who also sang traditional folk songs and played guitar. She also grew listening to Broadway musicals, the Beatles, and the folk music of the late ’60s.



"I was attached to Joni Mitchell before I found Judy Collins," Carlin told me. "But at some point, I was listening to the Judy Collins album ’Wildflowers’ over and over again. When I had my son, to keep him from crying, I sang to him every night, including her song ’Secret Gardens.’ When he became old enough, he told me that was his favorite song." 



When deciding on a show, Carlin originally thought it would be about all the major folk singers of the era. "I became intrigued by her song choices, and we eventually focused in on her," she said. "I loved so many of her songs and it became a natural fit for me."



"She feels compelled to communicate," Carlin said of her idol. "She is a storyteller and an ambassador to all kinds of music in the world. She’s not confined to traditional folk music."



Carlin has read all four of Collins’ memoirs. "I know everything about her, and I talk about bits and pieces," she said. "But it was all we could do to cut the songlist down to fifteen songs."



She went on to explain, "She is very deep and courageous. Knowing about her has informed me and I understand the references in her songs."

Carlin herself is a talented poet -- something she used to great effect in her last show. "Judy’s songs are very poetic and her nature is poetic. That’s where I’m at home." 



Ruth Carlin’s tribute to Judy Collins plays at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Thurday, June 12th. This is a show I can’t wait to see. . . .

Carlin is a Light in the Window

Beyond knowing Judy Collins' name and a couple of songs she's been identified with, I admit there isn't much I could tell you about the singer whose gentle voice, honest songwriting and passion for politics made her a voice that influenced a generation. 

One of those individuals touched by Collins is singer Ruth Carlin.

In her new show titled "A Light in the Window" at The Laurie Beechman Theater, Carlin pays homage to the woman she says she's been drawn to through her "heavenly sound that belies deep personal sorrow."

Carlin began her set with Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning." Her simple and clear tone truly has the ability, like Collins, to convey a story. However, never does Carlin try to mimic Collins' tone. While some tribute shows can veer on talking too much about the featured artist, Carlin, under the direction of Scott Barnes, gives the audience just enough information on Collins' life and career. In fact, she almost teased it, which inspired me to do my own research after the show.

The song selection is lovely--everything from Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" to Jimmy Webb's "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress." Yet, what sells the show isn't the material, but Carlin's sincerity. After singing Collin's self-penned "Secret Garden," she told the audience that her son once admitted that of all of the songs she used to sing him when he was a kid, that one was his favorite. She also confessed that even though she began singing in her 20s, she gave it up because she didn't have the confidence to continue.

Suddenly the show wasn't about Collins' music. It was about the age-old question: How do you overcome your fears and go after your dreams? Carlin lived the words she sang in "Both Sides Now"---"So many things I could've done, but clouds got in the way."

Whatever clouds were in Carlin's way have seemed to break. There are times when you can tell she's a bit nervous, but that's what makes the experience of her show memorable. It's obvious she wants to give the audience nothing but her best, and at the same time she's also giving them a master class in how to succeed in doing something you love.

 

This may not have been the usual “glitz and glamour” cabaret show with bangles and boas, but when Ruth Carlin took the stage at The Laurie Beechman to launch her new CD, Moon Song, it was abundantly clear that this was a lovely, intelligent woman of substance, depth and passion who has a good deal to say and sing about with a voice that is both compelling and comforting at the same time.

With simplicity and ease and with remarkable support from three of New York’s finest musicians, arranger and Musical Director, Paul Greenwood, bassist Dick Scarpola and John Redsecker on percussion, she proceeded to engage her audience in a series of story songs that revealed much about her own circuitous journey from shy, Long Island school girl to self-assured poet/singer songwriter who only recently returned to the cabaret stage after years of “fits and starts!”

Her eclectic song list included familiar folk/rock hits like James Taylor’s “Something In the Way He Moves” and Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” that she managed to personalize effectively. One of her own poems, The Fall, nicely set up the Patrick Alger/Eugene Levine song, “Once In a Very Blue Moon.” Her self-penned opener, “My Moon Song,” and closer, “Door to Door” served as bookends to seldom heard gems like Murray Grand’s “I “Always Say Hello to a Flower” and Christine Lavin’s quirky “Mysterious Woman,” both of which fit her like gloves and revealed not only her sweet friendliness and understated humor, but also her good taste in material.

Special mention must be made of her director, Scott Barnes, who knew to emphasize her soft strengths, and to the sensitive accompaniment provided by Greenwood, whose undivided attention and musical insights gave her the opportunity to express herself freely and artistically. It just all worked!

Like the May flowers nourished by those April showers, some cabaret singers bloom and continue to grow. Others fade. And some are so non-genuine that we suspect they are made of plastic. Let’s look at some who continue to grow and put their mettle to the petal in the blossoming cabaret garden this spring. Ruth Carlin is a prime example. Her flower power doesn’t come from a powerful voice and boisterous “Look at me!!” personality. More of a shrinking violet, she openly states that extreme shyness that has dogged her since childhood has been a burden, but that modesty can also be endearing and make one root for her to get more rooted in cabaret and stand her ground. There’s a quaintness and gentleness about this lady who has the punny “I Always Say Hello to a Flower” in her act --- a number the unique musical comedienne/chameleon Beatrice Lillie used to chirp eccentrically. Like that Lillie, this lily of the nightclub valley that ends down below the steps leading to 42nd Street’s Laurie Beechman Theatre seems to exist on her own delightful terms, ignoring the harsher realities of the world and times. Just when the number is reminding me another one about flowers, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here,” her excellent veteran pianist, Paul Greenwood, plays a mini-quote from that melody. Here’s the truth about Ruth: her show isn’t the showiest in the crowded field of flowers, the quivering vibrato almost making one think she needs a protective greenhouse in addition to Greenwood, would that it be that simple. But it ain’t. This lass with the delicate air sprinkles the air with her spoken poetry and a couple of from-the-heart original songs, like an excellent one about moms and daughters that could be just ready to pick when May flowers into Mother’ Day a few Sundays from now. But she’s worth watching, and, as her show progresses, it deepens and she digs in. She earns her right to sing Jacques Brel’s dramas and delivers the goods. Her new CD, Moon Song, makes her bloom in moonlight, too.

As any true lover of cabaret knows, you don't have to have a big and brassy voice to connect to audiences and songs. Ruth Carlin is a sensitive soul who doesn't boast a large, powerhouse voice, but she's quite effective and can capture a listener with her disarming projection of deeply felt emotions and thoughts. A real humanity and integrity are evident in the gentle singing and persona, whether the main impression is that of one who's older and wiser and ready to pass on a hard-learned lesson—a fragile lady tentatively adventuring through life. One vacillates between wanting to protect her and sitting up because she seems to have comforting of her own—or wisdom—to impart. Reinforcing the reality of what arguably could be just the craft of an actress (which she's been) is that some of the words she'll intone are her own. Her CD, Moon Song, is bookended by open-hearted, plaintive originals: "My Moon Song" as the opener, and closing with "Door to Door." They reference music itself, as well as life's (here comes that dreaded but unavoidable cabaret cliché word) journeys.


A collaboration with Ben Scheuer, "Ghosts of Love" bookends the lovely, loving Judy Collins piece "Since You've Asked." Evident is an affinity for folk songs, with their storytelling/truth-telling aspects, soul-bearing and eschewing of the slick. An album focused on that genre might be a wise move in the future. (Joni Mitchell's bittersweet classic "The Circle Game" is further persuasive evidence here). But cabaret's natural verisimilitude master brings that bone honesty and warmth to pop and theatre music here, too. From The Act, tailored for Liza Minnelli by Kander & Ebb, "My Own Space" becomes less of a pleading bleeding heart and more of a sober, well-thought-out agreement between mature lovers. And "The Song of Old Lovers" takes Jacques Brel's melancholy melody, with the Des de Moor's English translation of the lyric, to a darker and richer place bespeaking time well spent with some ripples and storms in the smooth sailing of long-term relationships. Broadway's Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty pop up twice; in both cases, we're hearing songs cut from their scores: with an especially supportive "Come Down from That Tree" with its "I've been there" sense (a number cut from Once on This Island which several singers have dug up in the past) and "Shoes" (trimmed from Lucky Stiff). Also welcome is "My Most Important Moments Go By" by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, originally heard in their quirky musical The Last Sweet Days of Isaac. It's one more wise choice here for a singer who so well embodies the sense of wanting to embrace life, but having a shyness that sometimes gets in the way.


The quaint quiver and quaver in the voice that's often present is, perhaps, both a blessing and a curse: in a Piaf kind of way, it makes everything seem all the more human and tender, but can be so front-and-center to the ear in an audio recording of a more limited voice that it overshadows other qualities and brings a similarity of tone and color. While not so pronounced or forceful, like the memorable voice of folk singer Buffy St. Marie whose wide vibrato became a braying and sometimes harsh sound, it's still dominant and prominent. With repeat listens, it becomes less distracting and more just intrinsic and characteristic. In performance (and I've seen Ruth in cabaret rooms several times), we get the full picture of a voice and look that go together—an understated but focused lady with a head full of curls and thoughts, where it almost seems shocking that people at tables are brought beers instead of chrysanthemum herbal tea and one can imagine her strumming a guitar. Instead, seasoned player Ken Sebesky is the guitarist on four tracks here, including a highlight track finding two sentimentally romantic Beatles songs snuggling up against each other: "If I Fell" and "I Will." Other musicians guest on one or two tracks, but the mega-experienced core band is arranger/pianist Paul Greenwood (a classy New York cabaret institution), bassist Dick Sarpola and John Redsecker on percussion. Arrangements never overpower, but amplify the subtext and become fellow tip-toeing walking partners when need be.


Ruth Carlin's official CD launch shows are on April 6 and 18 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre inside the West Bank Café on Manhattan's Theatre Row. As usual, audiences pay a cover charge and there's a minimum, but each audience member also gets a copy of this CD to bring the warmth home (even if spring in NYC continues to procrastinate). 

Singer/Songwriter Ruth Carlin recently debuted a new show at The Duplex to celebrate the release of her CD, Moon Song(scheduled for an official release in the spring.) It was rather auspicious. With her soft alto voice with the gentle vibrato, Carlin and her team, which includes artistic and vocal director Scott Barnes and Musical Director/arranger Paul Greenwood, presents an album here of well-chosen and totally interesting songs that all have a sense of purpose. She delivers them with intelligence and manages to give some familiar songs her own spin with ease.

Kicking it off with her original “My Moon Song,” she introduces the listener to who she is artistically: “There’s a song inside me, finding its way … Rhyme with the moon like so many songs do, and I’ll sing you a song …” The words, out of context, sound sweet enough. However, on this disk, they are a bit more—they’re statement that introduces someone with a warm heart and a serenely calm voice who has a lot to offer. This definition also permeates the brunt of an album of assorted story songs and standards that captures who she is upfront and gets stronger as the disk moves on. Her versatile vocals make her at home singing folk, pop, standards and musical theater material. And, she is also a poet with experience in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop as a lyricist. It all makes for a fine package from a lady returning to cabaret after a brief hiatus.

There are many fine cuts. Of particular note is her beautiful reading of Kander and Ebb’s “My Own Space” from The Act, here enhanced by Glenn Drewes’s beautiful trumpet support. This is followed by a captivating take on “What I Was Dreamin’ Of ?” by David Friedman. She perfectly captures this dreamy love story. The usually more complex Brel/Jouannest “The Song of Old Lovers” (with translation by Des de Moor) is almost spellbinding in its exceptionally understated emotionality. This is a song easy to over-sing. Carlin nails it with the emphasis on naked honesty and a trenchant simplicity that is refreshing. “Once in a Very Blue Moon” (Alger/Levine) has the same veracity. Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” is well interpreted in a poetic delivery that works. Carlin’s strength clearly lies in her truth telling on a story of life and love.

Paul Greenwood’s arrangements and musical guidance are nothing short of perfection and help Carlin make the musical statements she goes for. This is a lady whom we will be hearing more about and her’s is a welcome return to cabaret.

 

John Hoglund - Cabaret Scenes

November 29, 2012

Ruth Carlin celebrated her new CD MoonSong with a new cabaret show entitled SongMoments with a series of performances at the Duplex in New York City.  The show was directed by MAC Award winner Scott Barnes and Carlin’s music director/arranger is MAC Award winner Paul Greenwood.  Interspersed with some extraordinary Carlin original poetry, her selections sometimes were familiar and sometimes very esoteric but always very appropriate.

For example, Carlin’s poem, Peonies, led directly into Murray Grand’s wonderful “I Always Say Hello To A Flower,” previously recorded by Dody Goodman.  And any show that includes John Bucchino’s “In A Restaurant By The Sea” grabs me immediately.  Carlin’s wonderful vocal pitch and acting ability and Greenwood’s simple, yet complex, playing made Bucchino’s striking song a stunning song moment.  There was a parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory,” with special lyrics by Pam Peterson, which was very hilarious as was a real Jule Styne/Comden & Green rarity, “I Wanted To Change Him.”  She saluted David Friedman and his muse Nancy LaMott with Friedman’s What I Was Dreamin’ Of,” and ventured into the folk with a impressively plaintive “Long, Long Time” by Gary White.  She sang sadly the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh “You Fascinate Me So” with the irony and humor that the lyrics indicate.  Another unfamiliar list song was “I Regret Everything,” by Bill Burnett and Peggy Sarlin, which was also hysterically funny.

Carlin’s poem My Damage Will Save Me evolved into a strong and moving performance of Julie Gold’s “The Journey.”

In her “thank you’s” Carlin paid special tribute to the late Marianne Challis, her vocal coach, who died suddenly in August.  She closed her show with a Carlin original, “From Door To Door” that was comparable to the other rarities in her act in its beauty and message.

Carlin plans an official 2013 launching of her CD in the spring. 
Ruth Carlin SongMoments has one more performance scheduled at The Duplex on Sunday, December 2 at 4:30 PM.  Reservations are strongly recommended by calling 212-255-5438 or going to www.theduplex.com. Ruth Carlin’s website is www.ruthcarlin.com


Joe Regan - Times Square Chronicles review

 

 "Ruth Carlin showed herself to be a quirky, likable singer true to her art and her heart. With her unique, cinnamon-tinged, tremulous alto, Carlin conveyed both strength and vulnerability in a program that displayed intelligent song choices from an interesting variety of songwriters ranging from John Bucchino to Irving Berlin to David Friedman to Maltby and Shire. Individually, Carlin's song choices were rare and wonderful, showing off her good taste and smarts…


She has a lot going for her: a sincerity that can't be manufactured, a clear commitment to her material, an ingratiating presence, intelligence, and a fascinating voice.”  


Kevin Scott Hall, Bistro Awards review

In her recent, engaging shows at The Duplex to celebrate her new CD, Moon Song, Ruth Carlin proved herself with a lot of class in a personalized set of well-chosen songs. Often exhibiting a warm vibrato and succinct phrasing. Ms. Carlin offered a show filled with good song selections that perfectly suited her understated interpretive style to a tee.

 Deftly directed by Scott Barnes with Paul Greenwood as musical director, the low-key hour worked on many levels. This was mainly due to the fact that she is comfortable, relaxed and knows who she is which includes her vocal strengths. She also never tried to emulate some other persona as is sometimes common among cabaret performers. At her best on ditties like the 1970 My Most Important Moments  (Cryer-Ford) from The Last Sweet Days of Isaac, about images and nostalgia and the bucolic In A Restaurant By the Sea by John Bucchino, lit up the small stage like a flickering candle that was endearingly sweet creating one of the hours most memorable moments. Her easy-going, conversational demeanor coupled with a soft, expressive alto permeated the memorable hour in banter and song that never dragged. Too, offering some of her original poetry added a human touch that was carefully constructed so as not to be overindulgent. And, that poetry had real meaning as it seamlessly blended into the show.

 There were other special highlights during the hour that included: Why Can't I Forget? (Harris) that was poignant. David Friedman's What Was I Dreamin' Of? carried her insightful, reflective theme even further. Gary White's folksy Long, Long Time came from a yearning, wistful place within that was heartfelt without being overtly melancholic. This was perfect for her well-controlled vibrato which she used sparingly. Frequently, Ms. Carlin sang such wholesome ballads but wisely stopped short of becoming maudlin. It was rather like a pleasant trip down memory lane from one looking back on homespun tidbits taken from a life that has real meaning. This was even more evident with a serene reading of Julie Gold's The Journey that effortlessly wrapped up this special show by a lady one wants to see more of. It was preceded by a reading of Ms. Carlin's gentle poem, My Damage Will Save Me adding a nice touch.

 While those tender ballads hit the mark, with the exception of the mainstay, You Fascinate Me So (Leigh-Coleman,) which was overly sad, she might play more with comic timing on the lighthearted numbers a bit more. Fluffy ditties like a campy parody of Memory (Lloyd Webber) from Cats, which had her joking about forgetting common things, called for more playful abandon and just plain silliness. And, the funny I Regret Everything might work even better with a more wacky spin. She did do a terrific job on Murray Grand's absurdity, I Always Say Hello To A Flower. More of this frivolous irony is called for. But minor quibbles take nothing away from a delightful show and would only complement the serious moments. That aside, Ruth Carlin is off and running in the right direction. And, she's a welcome addition to the current cabaret scene. Intelligence and warmth are vital factors in the success of any show in an intimate room. Ms. Carlin has both – in spades.

 Musical director Paul Greenwood's carefully crafted, subtle arrangements supported Carlin's every musical nuance to perfection. And, it was so nice that she paid tribute to the late singer Marianne Challis with whom she studied vocal technique by including her in her thank yous. Like her show, the lady has class. An official CD release for her new album is planned for the spring.