Pam Lawson has a crush. She has a crush on Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, the Gershwins and a soft spot for their era. Her tribute to George and Ira’s excellent songbook includes sixteen tunes, backed up by a jazz quartet of drums, upright bass, keys and, in a lucky (if uncommon) choice, trombone. Lawson’s sweet, thin voice conveys these classics with a timid adoration. The ensemble is solid, precise, and well-paced, although the group does not go much beyond mild and careful expression.
There were a few poignant moments: Lawson’s bashful address tipped into tender vulnerability in ‘But Not For Me.’ There were also moments when Lawson’s confidence swelled under the influence of the band’s exceptional, soulful trombone player, Phil O’Malley, when her voice gained fullness and colour. O’Malley stands out as an artist among session players and Lawson is shrewd to lean on his musical charisma, as in their cover of ‘Summertime,’ which starts off empty but eventually picks up steam and swing, mainly due to O’Malley’s solo.
Tom Finely tickles the (plastic) ivories and he and Lawson have an intimate banter that can sometimes exclude the audience. But the band as a whole is good-natured and their ability to laugh among themselves lends charm to the presentation of these songs. The attempt to foster a welcoming, personal atmosphere and a cabaret vibe is clear.
While Lawson’s love for this material is evident, overall the performance lacks passion. Still, the venue is appealing, and these songs are timeless for a reason. Those with a strong nostalgia for Old Hollywood and a penchant for “simpler times” will find the trip worthwhile.