2010 Women’s Blues Revue

Toronto Blues Society’s 25th Annual Women’s Blues Revue is this coming Saturday, November 26 at Toronto’s Massey Hall. In anticipation of this wonderful milestone, we’re reprinting this review of last year’s show.

This was my first Women’s Blues Revue, a Toronto concert institution that has been featuring world-class female blues vocalists and all-women bands for some twenty-four years, including this past Saturday night at the venerable downtown 2,752 seater, Massey Hall. The band was solid, led by charismatic guitarist Donna Grantis, along with Juno-winning bassist Brandi Disterheft, Lily Sazz on keyboards, Carrie Chesnutt on sax, Colleen Allen on saxes & clarinet, Rebecca Hennessy on trumpet and Lindsay Beaver on drums.

Host Shelagh Rogers introduced half-a-dozen vocalists over the course of the evening, beginning with Robin Banks, whose straight-up rockin’ blues numbers set the tone perfectly for the rest of the evening. She was followed by Nokomis, Saskatchewan’s Little Miss Higgins, a delightful singer-songwriter with a country-blues sound, crispy clean voice, and charming sense of humour, including, as part of her introduction to Bargain Shop Panties, the presentation of a guitar-patterned pair of undies for band-leader Ms.Grantis. Closing out the first set was Alana Bridgewater, a dynamic, almost overwhelming force of nature whose set featured covers of Georgia On My Mind and Hound Dog.

The second set kicked off with barefoot, eclectic artist Kellylee Evans, who despite fighting laryngitis earlier in the day, put in a superb “show must go on” performance, never once letting on that her voice was darn-near muted. She was followed by another barefooted local sensation – and rising star in Québec – Alejandra Ribera, someone for whom the term “blues” is not among the first half-dozen genres used to describe her, and frankly, an odd choice for the event. Her songs were largely forgettable (by her usual high standards) as she appeared to step well outside of her comfort zone, but despite that, her presence in Massey Hall felt entirely right: she’ll be back to do her own gigs there in the near future, she belongs there.

Closing the evening was the remarkable Rita Chiarelli, a singer who has performed at the Women’s Blues Revue at least eight times, including the inaugural event  After planting a kiss on Ms. Rogers’ mouth that would make Brittany and Madonna green with envy, Ms. Chiarelli closed the show with a trio of powerful numbers that showcased her inimitable voice and seasoned stage presence. (Incidentally, Rita Chiarelli recently starred in a documentary film, directed by Bruce MacDonald, called Music From The Big House, where she visited the birthplace of the blues—Louisiana – specifically, the Louisiana State Maximum Security Penitentiary, a.k.a Angola Prison.)

The evening was well worth the moderate ticket price, but there were some things left to be desired: if there’s a horn section present, the audience should never have to strain to hear it – such as it did on this night. The sound overall was a little muddy, especially the vocal mics and host mic, and frankly, while I can appreciate an all-women’s band supporting all-women vocalists, it’s so very 20th century; deliberate exclusion is simply no longer cool. I would have loved to have heard a male backing vocalist or two, and with no disrespect whatsoever to the brilliant Ms. Disterheft’s playing, a kick-ass veteran blues bassist with hair on his ass would have given this show that extra low-end oomph it required. However, I strongly recommend you check out any and all of the above artists, and circle the date of the 2011 Women’s Blues Revue when it is announced. It’s a national music treasure.

Check out terrific photos from the Women’s Blues Revue from Dougal Bichan

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