Phoebe Snow - Live (2008)

Phoebe Snow
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The three-decade plus legacy of Phoebe Snow has endured numerous bumps and bruises since the day her biggest hit launched a promising career. Despite lacking major chart success, she was respected by her fellow peers for her extraordinary voice and four-octave range. Throughout the challenges she encountered in both her professional and personal life, Snow always found avenues to share her diverse musical talents. Casual and avid fans remember the singer/songwriter as the voice behind "Poetry Man," which earned a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1975 and a Billboard Hot 100 number five single spot. In reality, Snow's musical expertise covers many genres: pop, rock, jazz, and Broadway show tunes. With nine albums and numerous guest appearances to her credit, the singer/songwriter finally releases her first solo concert project - Live.

The three-decade plus legacy of Phoebe Snow has endured numerous bumps and bruises since the day her biggest hit launched a promising career. Despite lacking major chart success, she was respected by her fellow peers for her extraordinary voice and four-octave range. Throughout the challenges she encountered in both her professional and personal life, Snow always found avenues to share her diverse musical talents. Casual and avid fans remember the singer/songwriter as the voice behind "Poetry Man," which earned a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1975 and a Billboard Hot 100 number five single spot. In reality, Snow's musical expertise covers many genres: pop, rock, jazz, and Broadway show tunes. With nine albums and numerous guest appearances to her credit, the singer/songwriter finally releases her first solo concert project - Live. The eleven song project on Verve Records captures several moods of a multi-faceted artist who first learned her craft from top notch folk and blues musicians.

Snow grew up in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, where artists, poets, and singers flourished from the fifties through the seventies; Nina Simone, and Barbara Streisand to name a few. Pete Seeger, a renowned voice from the folk music era of the fifties and sixties, took Snow under his wing in teaching the finer points of traditional blues. Besides listening to Seeger, Leadbelly, and other folk and blues legends on her home stereo, she watched the pop and rock hit makers on TV's American Bandstand. After some guitar lessons, she was ready to pursue her dream by making the rounds at local amateur shows armed with her musical savvy. One night, an executive from Shelter Records was fascinated with how Snow calmly handled her stage business after a guitar string broke in mid-performance.

Snow's 1974 self-titled debut for Shelter, boasted by folk and blues inspired cuts "Poetry Man" & "Harpo's Blues," was an absolute success on the charts and with fans. Unfortunately, a contract dispute began a disruptive series of events that clouded the course for superstardom. Snow then moved to Columbia Records for the second CD from 1976 - Second Childhood - which fared well on the pop, jazz, and black music charts. She remained with Columbia for three more modestly successful albums, yet the label eventually released Snow in 1980 due to lagging record sales. Atlantic Records' custom label Mirage gave Snow another opportunity the following year with Rock Away, backed by members of rock icon Billy Joel's band. However, she and label executives battled on serious artistic issues for the follow-up release.

The unsuccessful partnership with Mirage and an equally unsuccessful effort to shop her demo tape to other companies caused Snow to rethink her future. She decided to invest more time with her only daughter, Valerie, who was stricken with brain damage at birth. Somehow she managed to balance caretaking with rekindling her musical flame. For the next eight years, Snow participated on compilations and other artists' projects of various genres. To name a few examples, Snow returned to her influences from her childhood on "Just to Be With You" from A Tribute To Muddy Waters: The King of the Blues, and guitarist Steve Howe's tribute to Bob Dylan - Portraits of Bob. She also sang background on the ambient-flavored "KoKoKu." from experimental artist Laurie Anderson's Mister Heartbreak. But one of her biggest triumphs was a spot in Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and his New York Rock & Soul Revue. Snow's cover version of Etta James' biggest hit, "At Last," from the Revue's 1991 CD Live at The Beacon Theater showcases a bolder phase of her vocal capabilities.

Snow's latest solo work - Live - recorded at The Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, New York carries some of the rock and soul spirit from Live at The Beacon. Live also provides a pleasing compliment of smoky blues, easy listening pop, and a romantic ballad from the pen of Broadway composer Richard Rogers. There are many fine songs here from which to choose. "Shakey Ground" from the 1977 release It Looks Like Snow is a fun and funky overture. "It's All In The Game," a doo-wop hit for Tommy Edwards, reflects Snow's passion for R&B classics. Snow also knows how to understate lyrics to enhance the song's intent. Two cases in point are "You're My Girl," dedicated to her daughter Valerie who passed last year; and "With A Song In My Heart" -- usually performed as an over-the-top love song but in a clever change of vocal heart here delivered with more restraint. Of course, "Poetry Man" is on the bill, served with a jazz twist. Out of the eleven tracks, the real ear opener is "Piece Of My Heart." Snow's juicy feel for this Janis Joplin's signature piece does not veer far from the original version, but is nonetheless refreshingly compelling.

The only true letdown on Live is the pop fluff of "The Other Girlfriend," a track that stifles Snow's intricate vocal approach. That is the only disappointing moment in an otherwise invigorating performance.

Snow experienced many devastating professional and personal obstacles over the course of her career, but refused to crumble under the pressure. Live is a welcome return of this talented, indefatigable singer, and proves again that the success of an artist is not measured by chart success but is measured by the creative lessons learned and applied over the course of a career. Recommended.

By Peggy Oliver

 
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