A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I had totally by chance come across the video of a wonderful young singer, Sara Niemietz, who in addition to her own solo career also occasionally fronts for a group called PostModern Jukebox. I've posted a couple of her terrific videos, including here, and mentioned that -- as whimsy would have it -- she was going to be performing in Hollywood just a week later.
That "week later" was this past weekend, on Saturday night. It was a launch concert for her new CD, held at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. (As further whimsy would have it, I went to see the movie The Hero on Sunday, and a scene takes place at a concert in...the Hotel Cafe! Very bizarre. I sat in the movie theater having a sort of ethereal experience, particularly because I hadn't even heard of the small venue until a week ago.)
The concert was a joy. There were three other musicians, including the legendary composer/arranger Snuffy Walden on guitar, and two back-up singers. Ms. Niemietz also played guitar on many of her numbers. She has an incredibly affectionate personality that comes out wonderfully on stage -- in fact, I'd have loved for her to interact even more with the audience, since she creates such a connection.
Most of the songs were originals from her new CD, Travel Light, including a particularly-terrific one called "Monroe." In addition, I quite enjoyed, "Don't Walk Me Home" and "Streets I Used to Know," both of which stood out for me. But all the new songs had good things about them. What leaps out from all her songs, though -- original and covers alike -- is her soaring, smokey-voice with wonderful, insightful interpretations. She can go from booming out that envelopes a room, switching on a dime to soft-and-tender whispers, and then into glass-shattering high notes. (At a few points, I occasionally wished for sharper diction, since the sound system or perhaps acoustics, while good, didn't always always balance well, and everything wasn't as clear as would be ideal. Though usually it was all spot-on.)
If I have any other quibble about the show it's that having seen several of her videos at this point on YouTube, it's obvious how good she is on stage, moving around and connecting with the audience. But with her guitar and microphone stand, she seemed more locked into one place on stage here than would otherwise bring out her best. In part, though, I think that's because the Hotel Cafe has a very small stage, and it was full of six people plus instruments, so there wasn't a great deal of space to move.
As much as I admire her original songs, she does such especially-fascinating jobs on her covers of older numbers. And that's not always the case with singers, who either sing the classics "as is," or interpret them to death, to the point of unrecognizable. But she gives them a freshness that also harkens back to their original intent. She didn't do many of them that night (which I was sorry about, since she's SO good at them, but I completely understand singing one's own original songs -- most particularly because it was a launch-event for her new CD). But two that she did nail out of the park were "My Funny Valentine" and "At Last."
Though some people were taking videos, I chose not to. But here's a concert video of her singing, "My Funny Valentine" at the 2015 Rock 'n' Roll Benefit for Children in Washington, D.C. I think she was probably around 23 at the time, so it's all the more impressive to hear her thoughtful interpretation. This particular version runs a bit longer than an in-studio video she has, but there's a reason -- she performs it here with Snuffy Waldren on guitar, but then as she's almost-finished, the highly-regarded saxophonist Mark Rivera (among many other credits, he's been in Billy Joel's band for 25 years) starts playing off in the wings. She waves him onstage, and they improv another verse.
(As further whimsy would have it, public television here in Los Angeles re-ran the other day the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize concert for Billy Joel, which I recorded and watched last night. And there was Mark Rivera throughout the whole thing.)
I decided to post this video rather than her much shorter in-studio version of this song, not only to hear her improv with Rivera, but also so you could have a better chance of seeing Niemietz in concert, where she is so ingratiating on stage (even though still somewhat low-key here). Beyond that, however, I figure it's also nice for me to post one of her songs here other than the two versions I've had of "Love Yourself," if only as proof that she can sing more than just that...
And since the only performances of hers that I've posted thus far have been covers, I wanted to include one of her original songs, the aforementioned "Monroe," which I especially liked. It's an absolutely endearing love song, full of charm and warmth..
If you're interested in her new CD, Travel Light, you can get it here for only $10, either as a hard copy CD or digital album. As I said, she sang most of the numbers during her concert (probably all of them, but I'm not great at remembering song titles), and I liked them all, though to varying degrees.
For the life of me, I don't understand why she doesn't have a record deal yet, but I have to believe it's coming. For someone this terrific -- as both a singer and stage performer, as well as writer of original material and interpreter of classics (and with someone like Snuffy Waldren so solidly behind her) -- it's only a matter of time.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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