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Vonda Shepard – City Winery – Philadelphia (A Concert Review)

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Vonda Shepard – The Loft at City Winery – Philadelphia, PA – January 12, 2023

“Ain't it funny how you're walking through life, and it turns on a dime?”

That line isn’t just a lyric from Vonda Shepard’s 1996 song “The Wildest Times of the World,” but it was also somewhat prophetic towards her own career.

Shepard first popped up in the pop culture spotlight in 1987, when she had a top 10 single as part of a duet on the song “Can’t We Try” with balladeer Dan Hill. (This was a comeback single for Hill, who was best known for the 1978 smash “Sometimes When We Touch.”) Shepard was signed up with Warner Records, but her self-titled debut album didn’t sell as well as hoped and she was dropped from the label before her second album was released.

She released a couple of albums on the indie Vesper Alley label (1992’s The Radical Light and 1996’s It’s Good Eve), but it seemed like things were passing her by, until one day when actress Michelle Pfeiffer and her husband, television producer David E. Kelley, caught one of her gigs. At the time, Kelley was developing a new show about a quirky young lawyer named Ally McBeal. Kelley thought it would be an interesting idea to have a singer to bring musical voice to the young litigator’s inner turmoil. And he felt that Vonda Shepard would be the perfect person to be that voice.

Therefore, Shepard landed in a show that became (at least briefly) a pop culture zeitgeist. Shepard performed in pretty much every episode of the series’ five-season run as the singer at the Martini Bar in the same building as the law firm, performing a mixture of cover songs and some of Shepard’s originals. The song “Searchin’ My Soul” (originally from The Radical Light) became the series’ theme song and was a hit single.

Now 25 years on from Songs from Ally McBeal (who else is feeling old?), the first of four soundtrack albums of songs that Shepard recorded for the show, Shepard is on the road for a very brief US tour (three nights, three cities) celebrating the anniversary, as well as the release of her most recent album Red Light, Green Light.

This was the middle night of the east coast short trek. (She played in Annapolis, MD the night before, and was heading up to New York City the next night.) She mixed a good cross-section of her solo work and McBeal cover songs, although she did not sing her highest charting hit “Can’t We Try?” (Undoubtedly, she considers that Dan Hill’s song more than her own, even though she was a huge part of the hit recording.)

She brought along a crack backing band, made up of Tina Turner’s longtime guitarist James Ralston, Jackson Browne’s longtime drummer Mauricio Lewak and bassist Jim Hanson, who has played with the likes of Rodney Crowell and Bruce Springsteen.

She started the night with a few of the new songs (about three songs in she apologized to the Ally McBeal fans and said she’d get to those songs soon), doing soulful, passionate takes of “Shine Your Light,” “Red Light Green Light” and “Dirty Laundry Line” from the new album and “I Just Don’t Get It” from her 2015 album Rookie.

Soon she had worked her way to such fan favorites as “The Wildest Times of the World” and a drop-dead gorgeous cover of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” She also did a sweet version of her wistful ballad “Maryland” and a gospel-tinged ride through “Sweet Inspiration” (originally recorded by the band The Sweet Inspirations).

She closed things out with a brace of Ally songs, hopping up from the piano for the only time of the night to do a playful cover of The Exciters’ “Tell Him,” torching the room with a raucous version of “Searchin’ My Soul” and then turning things down, closing out with a wistful and lovely take of the old Jo Stafford standard “You Belong to Me.”

Even though Shepard good-naturedly acknowledged in the middle of the set that her best-selling albums all had Calista Flockhart on their covers rather than her own picture, this show was a terrific reminder of the strong, interesting body of work that Vonda Shepard has been sharing with us for about 35 years.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2023.

Photos by Jay S. Jacobs © 2023

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