November 13, 2002
Talent burns away 'Stormy Weather'
The singer-songwriter tradition takes center stage as women stars lead a benefit.
By Randy Lewis, Times Staff Writer
Stars aplenty shone from the Wiltern stage Wednesday at the second "Stormy Weather" concert, a fund-raiser for Don Henley's Walden Woods Project. Yet despite many stellar performances among short sets by Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Paula Cole, Deborah Cox, Susan Tedeschi and Michelle Branch, the star of the evening wasn't a single one of them.
The true headliner was the singer-songwriter tradition itself. The 10 women, each given time for a couple of songs with a 60-piece orchestra, championed that tradition, from newcomer Branch's opening notes to Mitchell's captivating closing set more than two hours later.
In addition to samples of their own songs, most of the participants saluted at least one of their favorite songwriters.
Mitchell easily handled Bob Dylan's Mitchell-esque "Sweetheart Like You," Jones glided through the Band's "It Makes No Difference" and Crow deftly rendered Steve Earle's heartbreaking "Goodbye." Cole inhabited Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's "House Where Nobody Lives," while Yearwood aced Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away."
There were moments, however, when some of the relative newcomers didn't seem quite at home alone in front of an orchestra. The blues-based Tedeschi, for instance, did an admirable job as a torch singer, both on the standard "These Foolish Things" and in an appropriately moody reading of Mitchell's melancholy holiday song "River." Still, you ached for someone to hand her a guitar so she could really cut loose.
Likewise, jazz-blues sensation Jones, while exhibiting the evocative vocal phrasing that has made her one of the year's brightest arrivals, appeared especially ill at ease without her piano in front of her.
That may have been as much a function of experience as sheer comfort level. As the show progressed to the veterans, the poise and confidence level rose.
McEntire gave a reminder of what a marvelous straight country singer she was before she became a mistress of all media, with her treatment of the Ray Price hit "I Won't Mention It Again."
Even Nicks stepped convincingly out of character, delving deeply into the blues of Etta James' "Sunday Kind of Love."
Mitchell capped the evening as spiritual godmother to the women who had preceded her onstage with a stunning update of "Woodstock" that recast its original wide-eyed optimism into a haunting fable that mourned the loss of youthful idealism.
If she truly intends to retire from music, as she's been quoted as saying recently, she made it clear that when she does, she's not about to go gentle into that good night.
From Launch Music
Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Trisha Yearwood Sing For Walden Woods
(11/14/02, 6 p.m. ET) -- Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks (news), Trisha Yearwood (news), and Norah Jones (news) performed Wednesday (November 13) at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles for Stormy Weather, a benefit concert for Don Henley (news)'s Walden Woods Project.
The all-female lineup represented rock, pop, country, blues, and R&B, also including Reba McEntire (news), Michelle Branch (news), Paula Cole (news), Deborah Cox, and Susan Tedeschi.
Though the night was billed as an evening of standards, most of the performers turned to contemporary material. Each woman performed two songs, except for Mitchell, who closed the show with three numbers, including Bob Dylan (news)'s "Sweetheart Like You" and a new, orchestral version of her classic "Woodstock," that served as a preview of her upcoming Travelogue release.
Nicks performed "Landslide," originally found on Fleetwood Mac's 1975 self-titled album, and more recently revived as a country-and-pop crossover hit by the Dixie Chicks. For her cover, she chose Etta James's "Sunday Kind of Love."
McEntire sang "I Won't Mention It Again," off her 1995 release, Starting Over, followed by Irving Berlin's "I Got Lost In His Arms," from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun.
Crow presented a re-worked "Run Baby Run," from her 1994 debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, then covered Steve Earle (news)'s delicate ballad "Goodbye."
Yearwood's vignette, "On A Bus To St. Cloud," was served well by orchestration. She also performed of "The Man That Got Away," best known from the Judy Garland film, A Star Is Born.
Jones offered the Band's "It Makes No Difference" and Cole sang Tom Waits (news)'s "The House Where Nobody Lives," which she dedicated to the White House. On that note, Henley, who hosted the event, took his own swipe at the White House's most famous resident, President George W. Bush, with whom he shares a Texas heritage. "He was an idiot then, and an idiot now," he said.
Cox's performance included "This Better Earth," originally made famous by Dinah Washington. Blues singer Tedeschi went with a popular standard, turning to "These Foolish Things," while Branch bravely took on Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat."
The evening also included an auction, conducted by actor/comedian Paul Reiser (news), along with Henley and his Eagles songwriting partner, Glenn Frey. Items auctioned included a trip on a private jet to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion (news) perform, a guitar autographed by the night's performers, and another signed by Bruce Springsteen (news) & the E Street Band.
Also on the block was a chance to sing back-up on a new recording by the Eagles. Here, Frey quipped, "Who wants to buy that, besides Don Felder (news)," referring to the band's longtime guitarist who was ousted from the group in 2001.
The Walden Woods Project works to preserve and protect from development the forests around Concord, Massachusetts.
-- Darryl Morden, Los Angeles