Lauren Fox has been packing them in for her return engagement at the Metropolitan Room and at one special performance (7 p.m. before her earlier scheduled 9:30 p.m. show, April 5, 2012), added to accommodate the demand, it was easy to see why. In singing a program of numbers by Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, Fox raised folk singing to contemporary heights with her extraordinary talent. She has the ability to mesmerize an audience with her very presence and total command of her repertoire. Her skill as an actress serves her well as she injects meaning into every line, complete with a haunting voice, sensitive facial expressions, telltale body language and the intense feeling she brings to her song choices.
Fox provides background information where necessary, always in sharp communication with those who have come to experience first hand the skill that they have read about or heard about from friends. Although she has a quiet approach to her material, there is electricity in the air. It is thrilling to observe how accomplished she is, much in the way it always is when you discover talent and share the excitement over a performance that makes you want to tell everyone that they must see for themselves. Ms. Fox is indeed that rarity.
It is also appealing that she doesn’t just introduce the musicians working with her, but extols the special qualities of Peter Calo on guitar, Ritt Henn on bass and Jon Weber as pianist and music director.
Explaining that Mitchell and Cohen have meant so much to her and inspired her work, she chooses numbers that go deep and afford her the opportunity to pour so much into each one. She gets a laugh cautioning, “If you are ready to be uplifted, you are so into the wrong show.”
True, there is sadness in many of the lyrics. For example, she prefaces “Marcie,” (music and words by Mitchell) by calling it “the saddest song ever written.” On the other hand her interpretation of Mitchell’s “All I Want” is refreshingly upbeat.
When she sings a Cohen composition, she dons a man’s hat, which gives her a jaunty, intimate appearance, and each time she reaches for it, she does so with a subtle flourish of showmanship. One of my favorites is “I’m Your Man” (music and lyrics by Cohen), which she delivers with sexy, seductive intimacy, almost whispering some of the words, bearing out her introduction of Cohen as a well-known ladies man. Throughout she holds an audience in rapt, attentive silence.
That’s true for just about every selection. Fox makes you hang on every note, every inflection and every nuance. She is pouring her heart and soul into her performance, all with a directness that is totally engaging. There isn’t a trace of pretentiousness even though she makes her Mitchell-Cohen interaction so personal, telling her audience, for example, that some songs define who a singer is. Her own definition comes, she says from two numbers, “Bird on a Wire” (Cohen) and “Cactus Tree” (Mitchell), leaving her audience to listen carefully and come to individual conclusions about how they apply to her.
Other choices in her repertoire include “Michael from Mountains” (Mitchell), “Hey, That’s No Way to Say ‘Goodbye’” (Cohen), “Suzanne” (Cohen), “Little Green,” (Mitchell), “Night Comes On”(Cohen) and “River” (Mitchell). She amusingly pairs “Chelsea Morning” (Mitchell) and “Chelsea Hotel” (Cohen) with introductions as to their significance.
After singing Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” she ends with Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and it is as if a whole era has been summoned by the mastery of a new generation singer who can keep the music alive with updated expressiveness. Further performances on May 12 and May 17 at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440.