In a world of music lousy with fakes, phonies and poseurs who rely on Auto-Tuned production sleight of hand, mounds of make-up slathered on with a trowel and music videos revealing more skin than a strip club on a Saturday night, it’s easy to confuse a manufactured persona with genuine talent. Flashing a lot of flesh is a great way to hide a lack of talent.
Then along comes someone of the caliber of a Oleta Adams and like a strong breeze she blows through the smoke. Oleta doesn’t simply sing. The woman can “sang” and if you need an explanation between what the difference is I’m not sure I can help you.
Oleta live and in concert isn’t all that different from Oleta in the studio and on record. Her voice comes through clear and strong. She has excellent phrasing and doesn’t overwhelm the listener with vocal acrobatics. There’s no flash or pretense. This particular night it was simply a woman, a piano, and an enthralled audience quietly appreciating a singer and her songs.
It’s a indictment of how fickle the music industry is and how poorly it supports talent that after over half-a-dozen albums and nearly 20 years in the business, the name of Oleta Adams is pretty much of an unknown outside of her fan base. For everyone else she’s still that Black chick who sang with Tears for Fears.
I can understand that for as good as Adams is, she probably isn’t independently wealthy. I also understand touring with a band even if it’s just a bassist and drummer isn’t cheap especially when there’s no record company footing the bills. A band has to move their equipment from one town to the next, they need hotels to sleep in and a per diem so they can eat and they like to get paid too. Those costs have to be prohibitively high for Adams because when she walked on stage it was just her and her piano.
Now I’m a guy who drove all the way to Detroit to see two of his favorite jazz artists, Bob James and Keiko Matsui, playing four-hand piano with no backing band, so I’ve got no problem with an artist performing solo or in a duo setting.
I do have a problem with an artist performing solo and accompanied by pre-recorded music. That seems more like karaoke than actually performing and it’s a small cheat. Maybe if the show had been advertised as “an evening with Oleta Adams and solo piano” my expectations would have been different. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t a bit surprised by the absence of a band.
Aside from that, Oleta did not disappoint. She blended both her soulful and sacred sides as she went through both her hits like “Circle of Love” and “Get Here” and her less well-known gospel-tinged songs. I prefer the more popular material and in any concert there is going to be a wealth of great music left out. I would have loved if she sang “I Just Called To Hear Your Voice” where her singing is so phenomenal even Barbra Streisand would have to back away from the mic, but with so little time and so many tunes to choose from, something isn’t going to make the cut.
I may have mentioned it before, but it’s my considered opinion, when it comes time to talk about “who’s better and who’s best,” any conversation of the finest singers in contemporary music without Oleta Adams high on it, can’t be taken seriously. Popularity be damned; to finally see her live and in person does nothing to make me doubt that assessment. She’s simply one of the best we’ve got and I’m grateful I finally had a chance to hear her magnificent voice.