Amanda McBroom Is Alive And Well And Singing About It
Stephen Holden, New York Times – February 13, 2009
Although the comparison is a bit of a stretch, Amanda McBroom could be described as a softer, gentler American answer to Jacques Brel, The Belgian-French singer-songwriter she has idolized since she appeared many years ago in a production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”.
Like Brel, Ms. McBroom, who opened a four-night engagement at The Metropolitan Room on Wednesday, writes about complicated adult experiences, but less ferociously and from a woman’s perspective. Her sometime songwriting collaborator Michele Brourman accompanies her on piano.
With a chin-up attitude and a cheerfully self-deprecating sense of humor, her songs observe the personal wear and tear of long term relationships. Time and again she ponders the glaring gap between everyday domestic life and nagging romance-novel fantasies.
If their language is never less than decorous, Ms. McBroom’s songs repeatedly acknowledge a libidinous hunger that persists deep into middle age. Sex is a word that crops up often in her patter. The marriage bed may be cold, but the inner life is hot. As the narrator of her show’s witty opening number on Wednesday put it, “I’m still 17, and it’s Spring.”
The same acute awareness of time passing is also a hallmark of Brel’s songs. Of the four Brel numbers Ms. McBroom performed from the forthcoming album devoted to his work, “Chanson des Vieux Amants” was the most devastating. A steely-eyed assessment of a long-term relationship in which the sex has died while the attachment continues, the song, which Ms. McBroom sang partly in French and partly in English (with her own translation), is ruthlessly honest in the particular way of French chansons. Refusing to be sentimental, they lyrics stand back and admire the ruins.
Her translation suggested that along with British cabaret singer Barb Junger, Ms. McBroom is helping free Brel from the English translations (by Eric Blau, Mort Shuman, and Rod McKuen) that have tended to soften the edges of his lyrics.
For all the sweetness and light that surrounds her, Ms. McBroom, who suggests a deep-voiced Barbara Cook, doesn’t shy away from strong feeling.
“Marieke” builds from a gently nostalgic lament into a fierce cry of loss. Even Ms. McBroom’s most famous composition, “The Rose”, which is typically treated by others as a dainty pop greeting card, became a dramatic statement about keeping faith during a dark night of the soul. Listen closely; the song is not a misty palliative.