It can’t have been more than fifteen minutes into James Lambeth’s hour long set that I decided I had already had enough. There are several potential explanations for my lack of enthusiasm; it could have been the pianist, who ended every piece with a hackneyed twinkly arpeggio. It could also have been the double bassist, who plucked and pinged his way across the strings with general disregard for melody or rhythm. In the end, however, I think I was just bored. James Lambeth does have a good voice, pleasant and smooth across his range, but he doesn’t give anything more than that.
Lambeth said as his set began that it would be a struggle to do justice to George and Ira Gershwin’s songs in just an hour and he’s certainly right. However, I get the feeling that had we been there all night he still wouldn’t have really made any headway toward this goal. The set began with a rendition of ‘I Got Rhythm’ so laconic I didn’t realise the show had started until halfway through the second chorus. This sadly set the tone for the night. Despite Lambeth professing his love and respect for the Gershwins’ songs, I was unable to feel that in his performance (my doubt was also enhanced by his need of a crib sheet to remember what the songs were written for and when). The rendition of ‘S’wonderful’ which I was expecting turned into a tune that I can only assume was called ‘S’alright, probably’, and had the woman featured as the object of desire in ‘My Sweet Embraceable You’ been in the room that night I would have forgiven her for turning away and finding someone more interesting to talk to. The overriding sentiment of ‘Foggy Day’ was not so much mystery and magic as damp, dreary despondency.
Throughout the evening, Lambeth sang well but his voice lacked the necessary grit and warmth to carry the material. His tone was too sweet, the delivery too cautious, the emotional content almost non-existent. The Gershwins wrote passionate, evocative and often humorous music which is to us now a warm and witty postcard from the world in which they lived. They did not write ‘easy listening’ music for Bublé-era crooners. Lambeth’s voice is good but his stage presence is severely lacking, the band is unenthusiastic and above all the performance is passionless and meaningless. I’m not desperately attempting to erase this evening from my mind, but I’d be very surprised if I remember it tomorrow morning.