Helen Reddy, once known as the Queen of 70′s Pop in her heyday, wants us to forget that label. After a ten year hiatus from the stage during which she practiced clinical hypnotherapy, the Australian songwriter/singer, now 71, a few pounds heavier and a couple inches shorter, heard her voice again after singing a duet with her older sister at the latter’s birthday celebration. “Not bad,” she thought. The red head with the dynamic voice played two shows at BB Kings Blues Club in NYC this weekend. But now the third generation entertainer sings the songs she likes –some familiar and others not so – “Lost In The Night,” “Angel Baby,” “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady.” But all have meaning and reveal her personal struggles as a woman.
Her fan base of female baby boomers were there cheering her on with standing ovation after standing ovation. It was bitter sweet because Reddy, who knows how to interpret a song, still has a voice although the key is a bit lower; she connects with the audience in the way she always did, but she doesn’t have the stamina to move smoothly around the stage performing song after song. She suffers from Addison disease (the same ailment that struck JFK) and other health issues. As a result she gets winded easily. She does sit for some of the numbers and pauses with moving personal stories while catching her breath.
Reddy sings about emotions common to all of us. While sitting on a stool she does a beautiful job with Paul Williams’ “Loneliness.” Her eyes connect with the audience in the way they always did as she sings “You and Me Against The World.” The large video monitors revealing physical flaws didn’t do justice to this aging, but still talented and amazing performer. Lenny Coltun, a stalwart throughout her musical career, backed her on guitar along with Randy Landas on bass, and Robin Swenson on keyboard. The audience wanted more. Reddy never thought she’d be back on stage but she gave herself a much deserved hug.
The highlight of the show was when she recited the lyrics to a poem she wrote 40 years ago, “I Am Woman.” The expressive words are even more relevant today especially with her interpretive wisdom born of pain. The audience listened carefully. Then she sang her much anticipated hit, the anthem of our generation, “I Am Woman,” as magnificently as ever.
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