Currently ensconced at Feinstein's at the Regency in a cleverly titled program, "Love and Payne," the veteran singers are driving audiences to ecstatic ovations by presenting more than a score of established favorites, sung together in synch or separately and with enviably perfect enunciation of the words.
It's hard to top Love when she turns Leon Russell's poetic ballad, "A Song for You" into a torchy triumph or Payne when she delivers her signature song, "Band of Gold," a lament about an unconsummated honeymoon, with heart-breaking vulnerability. Unless it's when they collaborate on Stevie Wonder's "All in Love Is Fair," transforming it into an emotional revelation.
Darlene Love was one of the girl group, The Blossoms, who recorded with Phil Spector in the 1960s and later performed with such diverse artists as The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, Tom Jones, The Righteous Brothers, and Sonny & Cher.
She has let hair go white and keeps it closely cropped, wears a sequined pants suit for her performance, and admits to being a grandmother.
Freda Payne has never given up her femme fatale looks, wears her chestnut hair in a luxuriant fall, and is dressed to kill in clinging creamy satin gown. Since she became established as a jazz singer with the Quincy Jones and Bob Crosby bands in the 1960s, she has focused on R & B, recording on the Invictus, ABC, Capitol, and Sutra labels, and more recently has had a theatrical career.
The girls kick off their show in duet with the Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin number, "Love," and segue into Spector's rock era "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" followed by "Can't Help Falling in Love."
The Jack Gordon-Harry Warren classic, "At Last (My Love Has Come Along)" is Love's first solo number leading to the rousing number, "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," which gives her a chance to demonstrate her gospel shout and the audience a chance to clap along. She demonstrates a more haunting, subdued side to her musical personality when she sings the Dan Hill-Barry Mann ballad, "Sometimes When We Touch."
Payne weighs in with Matt Dennis' "Angel Eyes" and Bill Withers' provocative but lesser known "Use Me" and works up to a climactic "Blues in the Night," the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen hit that has never been sung better or more intensely. She can really make you hear the lonely post-midnight sound of a distantly passing train.
Singing together again in what they call "The Story of Our Lives Medley," Love and Payne sing "Puppy Love," "Teenager in Love," "Chapel of Love," and "She Was a Vamp." "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," a big beat number by Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, Payne's first mentors, rounds out the evening.
The duo are backed by five-instrumentalists headed by pianist Ed Alstron, who wears a black punk hat throughout the performance and sings along (unheard) when really carried away. Matt Catingub plays sax and the synthesizer, Frank Pagano, drums, Mark Lamberti, guitar, and Sue Williams, bass.
They can be heard nightly through Oct. 5.
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