Warm as a cashmere muffler, relaxed as a happy kitten, and ready for an attack of total perfection, Barbara Cook’s new show at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency shows off the legendary singer in a more intimate light than ever. She calls this appearance “Let’s Fall in Love,” and for good reason. Spring is a time for love songs, so through April 21, she’s up to her Easter bonnet brim with them. And this is the first time she has ever selected the song list on her own, without the aid of a musical “boss,” and done the layouts and interpolations herself. The result is fresh and as personal as if you were spending an evening in her own living room while she pulled favorite tunes from her piano bench. I have never heard that magical voice more mercurial or sparkling with so much musical magic.
The material is mostly new (she’s singing 11 of the 16 songs for the first time) and it ranges widely in mood and text, from a bouncy “Let’s Fall in Love” to a pensive “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” to a tender, thoughtful reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” I don’t know why she hasn’t spent more time investigating the pastoral splendors of country boy Hoagy. His songs fit her voice so elegantly. She takes his “Georgia on My Mind” and gives it a down-home, gingham-skirt quality Ray Charles never thought about. Small wonder. You can take the girl out of Atlanta, but … Even the overdone Eddie Cantor evergreen, “Makin’ Whoopee,” is delicate, lightly swinging, and highly listenable. The silver sparkle of midnight neon mixed with the violet tinges of unrequited love makes “When Sunny Gets Blue” a special favorite. This is a stunning song so goosebumpy that it’s a shame more singers don’t do it. Singing the subtext, she moves into the lyrics like a sinuous masseuse, reaching for notes that make you hold your breath with fear—and always landing them squarely in the middle. Carefully supported by Ted Rosenthal on piano, Warren Odze on drums and the polished, unpredictable Jay Leonhart on bass, she’s got a hazy, lazy musical hammock to swing in. Still, she never abandons her sense of humor. Confessing an addiction to YouTube that keeps her up until 4 a.m., she reduces the audience to roars sharing some of the country-western songs she’s discovered. Are you ready for “If My Nose Was Runnin’ Money, I’d Blow it All on You?” That’s an actual song title, not a Henny Youngman joke. One highlight in an eclectic, harmonically integrated repertoire is a new tune by Dan Hicks (say who?) called “I Don’t Want Love.” The antithesis of the overall mood in an evening that includes “Lover Man” and the gorgeous, forgotten 1933 classic “If I Love Again,” “I Don’t Want Love” is about food and passion and priorities. It’s also Babs’s way of spoofing her own girth: “If love makes you give up ham and greens/Chicken pot pie and lima beans/If love makes you give up onion rings … Then I don’t want love.” The audience was in stitches.
Don’t let this one slip away. Pensive, her eyes full of pain and joy and wisdom and loss, this is Barbara Cook in a sweet new light. She’s always as good as it gets, but this time she’s better than ever.