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Ministering to an Unlikely Couple

SOURCE: Published: 2009-10-29
Paula West Subversion and sex: to hear the San Francisco jazz singer Paula West stamp her personality on songs by Bob Dylan and Cole Porter in the same program is like encountering someone with a multilingual gift. Ms. West is one of a few singers who can reconcile the raw sarcasm of early Dylan with Porters archness and not seem to strain in either direction. The common ground she finds between the two songwriters is a mischievous sense that she is sharing secrets.

For the last several years Ms. West, who is playing a three-week engagement at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, has specialized in giving Mr. Dylans mouthfuls of syllables the kind of jazzy fluency that Billie Holiday brought to songs like Them There Eyes. At the same time she follows their narrative through lines and makes you pay attention to phrases you might have ignored.

At Tuesdays opening-night show she delivered Maggies Farm as a servants simmering expression of resentment that was all the more sinister for its not being shouted. Among the lines that stood out were the ones in which Maggies demonically grinning brother hands out nickels and dimes, then fines you every time you slam the door.


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