It may seem a contradiction in terms, but it is a cheerful experience to enjoy the expertise of Carole J. Bufford as she digs deep into the blues in her new show appropriately titled “Carole J. Bufford: Shades of Blue.” Bufford, as always, is a cabaret pleasure with whatever theme she chooses. For this one she turns all bluesy, flashing the self-assurance, vocal strength and interpretive skills that make each song an individual drama.
Her appearance at the Metropolitan Room last night (April 8, 2014) was the first in her series every Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. In this latest outing, she enters strolling around singing “Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues” with plenty of oomph, and when she takes the stage, she is a knockout in her glittering blue gown with an Art Deco design and a side slit so that when she sits on a stool her legs show strategically. Bufford knows exactly what she is doing, from the research that informs her song choices to telegraphing the enjoyment she seems to really feel in entertaining her audience.
Bufford makes a point that she is not only including original blues songs, but also numbers influenced by the blues. For example, she dazzles with the 1927 song by George Brooks about a woman who is proud that she killed her man and sings to a judge “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair.” She is sassy and sexy doing the double entendre “I Didn’t Like It the First Time (The Spinach Song)”purportedly about learning to love spinach. But you know what to substitute for those spinach leaves.
In the legacy department, she sings the 1947 “Lonely House” by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes, blending blues and opera styles. In the rock department she sees influence by the blues and pairs “All Shook Up” with “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On.”
Bufford gets superb backing from her musical director and arranger, Ian Herman, also on piano, and Tom Hubbard on bass, both of whom have hot solos. Scott Siegel is producer and co-creator.
At the performance I saw, Bufford also had a special guest performer, Daddy Gardner, who had an unusual accompaniment to her singing Richard Jones’s 1924 “Trouble in Mind.” Unfolding a platform on which he could dance, he was tappin’ and slappin’, the second by providing rhythmic sounds by rapidly slapping various parts of his body, as well as occasionally striking a glass. Gardner’s talent is unique.
I also especially enjoy Bufford’s interpretation of John R. Cash’s 1955 “Folsom Prison Blues,” the 1946 Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer “Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home” and the 1922 Cliff Friend and Irving Mills “Lovesick Blues.”
She also regales us with “The Man That Got Away” and “Summertime,” and her encore number is from far in the past, the composer-unknown “House of the Rising Sun.” Her over-all choices are an inventive fit with her “Shades of Blue” concept. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Phone: 212-206-0440. Reviewed May 9, 2014.