I thought Barbara Rosene was a delightful singer when I first heard her in 2005, and she has become an even deeper pleasure in the years that followed. Forgive me for writing that an artist has “matured”: people are neither cheese nor wine, but the emotional depths that Barbara reaches now — easily, casually, as if everyone could sing this way — are breathtaking. She doesn’t just sing the words; she embodies the feeling that animates them.
The first pleasure is simply in Barbara’s voice: not a lulling monochromatic croon, but a resonant instrument lovely at bottom and top, full of quiet shadings. There’s no harshness, no ironic edge, but she is not an old-fashioned copier of records. Within eight bars, you can bask in the glow and warmth of her voice itself, but you can also feel her deep understanding of both the melodic contours and the words — the ways in which they complement each other. I’ve never heard Barbara stand at a distance from the song or deliver any aspect of it mechanically. She is not in any way a prisoner of that gorgeous instrument; rather, she uses her voice with great fervor and delicacy to send us lovable truths.
And she is a multi-faceted artist. Were I to present this geographically, I would venture that Barbara is one part Ohio (shined shoes for family dinners, a sweet reverence for the natural world, inherent good manners) and one part Upper West Side (the ability to negotiate a crowded subway or the Sunday-morning rush at Zabar’s — someone who won’t be pushed around). Maybe it’s the intersection of church and eroticism, of Annette Hanshaw and Bessie Smith. You’ll have to parse that one for yourself.
Barbara has good taste in songs and in musicians — witness her latest duo-performance at Mezzrow with piano wizard Ehud Asherie on February 16, 2016. Ehud is, as always, brilliantly orchestral in solo and tremendously sensitive as an accompanist.
First, Ehud’s variations on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:
The lovely DEEP NIGHT, scored for two nocturnal explorers:
The cheerful, loving YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE:
Barbara makes I”LL NEVER BE THE SAME her own:
The next two songs, adjacent, perhaps sum up the two sides of Barbara’s vocal character: raunchy in I’M WILD ABOUT THAT THING:
The tender TIPTOE THROUGH THE TULIPS was a marvelous highlight of this evening for me:
EVERYTHING’S MADE FOR LOVE, prefaced by a nifty story:
What a winning duo. Without being inappropriate, I say with conviction that I am wild about Barbara and Ehud. And I know I have company. A second offering will come soon.
May your happiness increase!