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Nanci Griffith brings elegance to an evening of warm music

Reggata Bar, Cambridge, Mass., March 10, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Nanci Griffith has worn several hats during her musical career. She started in the country side and drifted into the singer/songwriter category. Now with last fall's "Ruby Torch" release on Rounder, the Texan evolved into a sort of jazzy-based chanteuse or as Griffith joked, "my pretending to be Julie London."

Griffith brought the entire package on the road to good effect during the third of four shows at an upscale Harvard Square music club over the weekend.

First and foremost is Griffith's vocals. She has a warm, full voice that really projects. Like most fine singers, she doesn't rush the song along, but takes her time in putting it across. It was a pleasure to hear the warmth of Griffith's stylings.

And the songs themselves aren't the type that require rushing. They're gentle works of art, such as "When I Dream," a hit for Crystal Gayle," by Sandy Mason.

Griffith played a good chunk of "Ruby's Arms," 7 of the 11 songs, during the nearly 90-minute set. She turned in good performances of the title track, written by Tom Waits, sounding far smoother of course than Waits ever could, and "Bluer Than Blue" with the guy who made the song famous, Michael Johnson, singing background vocals (he plays acoustic guitar in Griffith's band).

Griffith was quite capably backed by the Blue Moon Orchestra, which is more band than orchestra these days. Long-time Griffith cohort pianist James Hooker was a key cog in the machine, helping on vocals, but more importantly the piano chores. Johnson also turned in a good performance on "Magic Time."

This tended not to be an evening of particular highs and lows. Griffith sang at an even pace throughout for the most part, though she turned it up a bunch of notches for an excellent reading of "From a Distance," which Griffith talked at length about as a song needed for these times of war. "Love Conquers All" was upbeat musically and louder, a good change of pace.

The evening tended to be more about the cumulative effect of the music sang by Griffith than being flashy. There is an elegance to Griffith, and that came through during an evening of warm music.