Following up last year's surprise hit Grapefruit Moon: The Music of Tom Waits, Davenport's offers a revue of tunes by another rock poet--Leonard Cohen, Montreal's answer to Jacques Brel and Bob Dylan. Cohen's deadpan baritone has given his work a gloomy image. But this cabaret set proves that the cult icon's bravely confessional songs, sexually charged and permeated with Christian symbolism and mordant humor, can also be exhilarating. Keyboardist and conductor Dan Stetzel has arranged the music for four fine singers and a crisp five-piece rock band, giving the harmonically simple material impressive rhythmic variety. The vocalists, who alternate between solo spots and gospel-tinged backup, are Patty Morabito, whose blend of irony and passion in her calypso-style "Bird on the Wire" recalls Laura Nyro and Mama Cass; Jeanne Croft, whose serene intensity on "Famous Blue Raincoat" evokes Judy Collins's version of the tune; raspy-voiced David Balsie; and Matt Davis, whose dramatic, gritty renditions of "I'm Your Man" and "Light as the Breeze" are highlights. Saxophonist Mike Torti enriches the instrumental texture by doubling on an electronic wind instrument ( or "EWI") to produce the sounds of violin, flute, and oboe. But Stetzel and company steer clear of pop slickness, giving the material a ragged feel well suited to Cohen's odes to "the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty"--characters whose relationships end up as frayed as the shoulder of his famous raincoat. Now if only the performers would cut the peppy preshow patter. Naked runs through the end of June. Fridays, 10:30 PM, Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee; 773-278-1830.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Kolack.