Music review: Maureen McGovern brings stunning vocal expression to Trust Cabaret


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Songstress Maureen McGovern may have placed herself in that “64 and four twelfths“ niche in her performance for the Trust Cabaret series Monday night. But her renditions of everything, from a perfectly hiccuping Connie Francis (“Where the Boys Are”) to her Oscar-winning song, “The Morning After,” were timeless.

From the very start, Ms. McGovern was obviously an artist of great range. That can mean many things, beginning with soft, almost breathy low tones to her clarion upper register, which resulted in a beautifully-controlled lyricism. But this red-haired stylist could also belt it out.

Ms. McGovern did it all, though, within each single song, keeping the audience hanging on every little musical twist and turn. The program was called “A Long and Winding Road,” much of it culled from her latest CD release, and the audience willingly rode along on her soaring vocals.

Although she inserted a few personal stories, Ms. McGovern preferred to tell them through the music itself, embracing the words with an uncommon intelligence. So she was able to take on the best of the best. Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.” Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” -- a cappella. Superfine scatting a la Ella Fitzgerald. But unlike many others who have unsuccessfully tried to travel that path, where memories dimmed the live performance, Ms. McGovern offered fresh insight into their trademark tunes by skillful play on rhythm, meter and beautifully extended phrasing.

She could encapsulate so much into one arrangement, all concocted with her musical director and pianist Jeffrey Harris, who came along and was a real bonus for the audience. Together they percolated through Paul Simon’s “Feelin’ Groovy” with just a bass line for company.

But it went further. The audience was able to visit the entire Doo-wop era with just those endearing nonsense syllables -- sha na na et. al. -- and alone worth the price of admission. Or there was “Happy Birthday” set to the galloping score of “William Tell Overture.” Then her “Catholic school experience” by musical satirist Tom Lehrer, in an arrangement that somehow incorporated “genuflect,” “rosaries” and “transubstantiate.”

A stirring intimacy drew the audience in even further, where the words also drove touching tributes to Pete Seeger, including “We Shall Overcome,” and Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress.”

And they even got to sing along.

Elegantly sophisticated one moment, powerfully gutsy the next and always translucently pitch perfect, Ms. McGovern showed exactly why the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Cabaret series is not to be missed.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net.


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