Carleen Anderson, Jazz Café, London
Friday 16 April 2004
Carleen Anderson arrived in England in 1988 as part of a tour featuring her mother, the singer Vicki Anderson, and other assorted remnants of James Brown's merry band of funketeers, with whom she was acting as backing singer. She was leaving behind an uncertain future as a music teacher in LA and an upbringing that was rooted in the Southern churches of her childhood. Once in London, she never left.
But those ecclesiastic beginnings in Houston, Texas, are evident in her performance in the intimate surrounds of the Jazz Café. At a stretch, you could imagine being in a small Baptist church somewhere in the Houston area, which probably explains Anderson's heavily leaning towards gospel while interpreting modern pop.
Despite her tiny stature, Anderson possesses a full-blown diva-like holler that covered the full vocal spectrum from soft, soothing and sexy to full-on Siouxsie Sioux at her Banshee best. Her five-piece band, which included the Sixties entertainer Roy Castle's son Ben on saxophone, were as tight as you'd expect from a group who have been together on the road for months, raising Anderson's profile before the release of her album in the summer.
We were treated to a preview of the new material, which on first hearing would seem to look back to her early Nineties incarnation as a singer with the Young Disciples and the Brand New Heavies. "The Future", from the upcoming set, with its choppy bass and JB's All Stars-inspired funk-dripped sax, perfectly exemplifies this.
But it is tracks such as "True Spirit" and "When the Light Shines", from her 2002 album Alberta's GrandDaughter, that puts her astonishing vocal range to full use. Anderson is at her best seated at a piano, her neck veins straining with each phrase, her eyes closed and her head rocking Stevie Wonder-like as she relives the pain of lost love, the hope, and the anguish of whatever heart-felt agony she is experiencing.
It was an emotionally charged ride through the blues, gospel, jazz, pop and rock of her 1998 album, Blessed Burden, that was only brought back to calmer waters by the infectiously upbeat "Nervous Breakdown" from 1994's True Spirit album.
The Young Disciples hit "Apparently Nothin'" rather obviously brought the evening to a close - but it was, after all, the signature tune people had come to hear. She did not disappoint, stringing the song out until it felt like an endless loop. Finally, she ran off the stage to whoops and cheers, her band in pursuit, and a smile on her face.
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