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Karen Oberlin: Confound Me: Songs in Search of Something

Karen Oberlin

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Wandering through life, searching for belonging, for love, understanding, intrigue and challenges, relishing the joy and the laughter, Karen Oberlin's new show, Confound Me: Songs in Search of Something, extends a connection of universality.  "Stop halfway and make me wonder,” is the challenge in the title song by Oberlin's husband, David Hajdu and musician Renee Rosnes. 

Oberlin's vocal tone is clear and warm, delivered with a slash of determination expressing her love of lyrics and music.  She is also a music scholar, researching ideas, writers, studying the intent, sinking into the soul of the music and offering it to her listeners with pure detail.  Her acting training comes through in her music.  Listen to her attentive focus on Paul Simon's "America," a bus trip by two young lovers searching in vain for a vision of home as it used to be.  

In this eclectic, innovative show, she delves into imagination, truth and emotion.  Pairing Adele and Eg White's "Chasing Pavements"("even if it leads to nowhere") is a smooth fit with Rupert Holmes' "People You Never Get to Love," about taking chances or letting them pass.  Within the eccentricities of life she places the haunting, "Nature Boy," written by eden ahbez (originally George McGrew), a California cafe owner dedicated to nature, love, health foods, sort of a '40's version of a '60's hippie.  

With sexy wit, Oberlin delivered Harold Arlen and Y.I.P Harburg's "Napoleon," a song used in two musicals, Hooray for What! and Jamaica, because how can you deny, "Napoleon's a pastry/Caesar is a salad/Get it while you're able."  With guest Jill Sobule on guitar and vocals, she joined the vocal high jinx in Sobule's rocking, "The Jig Is Up."  Far more serious toward the end of the show is Elvis Costello's "Beyond Belief," expounding the hazards of searching and love. 

The highlight is Oberlin's rendition of Billy Strayhorn's, "Something to Live For," heartbreaking and sensuously jazzy.  Accompanied by music director/pianist Tedd Firth and Sean Smith on bass, she reaches for modern theater classics, "No More" (from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods) and "How Glory Goes" a melodic gem by Adam Guettel from Floyd Collins.  Her encore is standard jewel, Skylark by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, sung a cappella until Firth joins in. 

Karen Oberlin again reaches for something fresh and different, searching for and addressing  life and its uncertainties.

Karen Oberlin: Confound Me: Songs in Search of Something
158 - W. 72th St, NYC
June 11, 2018
Vocals: Karen Oberlin.  Guest Jill Sobule
Running time: One hour.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

June, 2018