Sunday, April 22, 2001

Singers turn Bogart's into happy, folkie beer hall

By Chris Varias Enquirer contributor

        Cincinnati's most famous rock club served as a quaint folk listening room Saturday night, as the singer-songwriter bill of Jonatha Brooke and Kim Richey came to Bogart's.

        Card tables were lined end-to-end the length of the room, which achieved a sort of Bavarian beer-hall feel, and patrons sat and took in the mild folk-rock of Ms. Brooke and her three-piece band and the Nashville-tunesmith renderings of Ms. Richey.

        Ms. Brooke has been a solo artist of semi-popular regard for the better part of the last decade. With a style marked by quirky arrangements and lyrics that combine the introspective with the absurd, she's a natural to attract a cult following. And the crowd wasn't big, but it was hers — cheering at the first note of recognition in each song's beginning.

        She meandered through a four-album-strong songbook, and "Blood from a Stone" and "Genius or a Fool" two of the more memorable stops. The former built upon Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," with bassist Darren Embry re-creating the central riff and drummer Larry Aberman providing the slinky percussion.

        She introduced "Genius or a Fool" with a story of the song's inspiration (years back she met producer Daniel Lanois, who beheld her twin-tone blue and red shoes with pronounced curiousity). She was funny, but it was the only time she really drew the crowd in between songs. It gave the tune context and made it her best performance, so it wouldn't hurt if she had done that sort of thing a little more.

        For the last two songs, both from her new album Steady Pull, she asked the audience to push away from the beer-hall tables and stand, and the audience obliged. Killing two birds with one stone, the crowd stretched its legs and danced to the mild rock of the title track and "Linger." Once the blood was flowing, the crowd got hungry, calling the band out for two encores.

        Ms. Richey, a Kettering native making a living in Nashville as a songwriter for country singers, peppered her 35-minute opening set with a couple funny stories of her own. One involved the inspiration provided by an Interstate 75 landmark — the "Florence Y'All" water tower — on a drive from Tennessee to Ohio. The other was about the "up-tempo/happy" style of country song the stars often ask her to write these days, much to her chagrin. "'Cause when I think of country music," she deadpanned, "I think of up-tempo and happy."


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