Cassandra Wilson graced the Pabst Theatre stage on Sunday evening, March 21. The most inspiring vocalist over the last decade, she has a brilliance no one can deny. The latest group she has assembled is a wonderful collection of musicians who create a full, almost orchestral, sound that is the perfect complement to her voice.
Her set began with a song from her 1993 release Blue Light Til Dawn, entitled Children of the Night, a stirring, almost haunting number that set the tone for the evening. The remainder of the set featured tracks off her new release, Glamoured, a magnificent collection of originals and covers. When Cassandra does cover tunes, she absolutely, positively makes them her own. Her arrangements, rhythmic structure and that sweet, sultry voice combine to recreate the music in her own image. The first example was Muddy Waters’ Honey Bee. "Sail along, honey bee," she sang as the band added color and texture. She then did an original, (Even a) Broken Drum, that appears on her new recording. She wrote the song ten years earlier but had not recorded it until now. One wonders why. Perhaps she was waiting for just the right time. The song references an Ashanti proverb "Even a broken drum can save the moon". Her powerful voice carried the message far and wide and the song closed with an amazing percussion solo from Jeffrey Haynes.
Other cover material included Lay Lady Lay (Bob Dylan), Last Train to Clarksville (The Monkees) and Crazy (Willie Nelson). The latter was really done beautifully. She then did several blues numbers. She started with On This Train, a duet that featured Jeffrey Haynes playing a unique percussion instrument and Cassandra singing and playing guitar. Toward the end of the tune, Brandon Ross joined them on banjo. Both Gregoire Maret (harmonica) and Reginald Veal (bass), participated in subsequent blues numbers, including 32-30 blues.
At one point someone from the audience yelled "Can you give the drummer some?" Cassandra replied, "That’s a good idea." Terri Lynne Carrington then put on a drum clinic. Her performance was symbolic of the whole band. Brandon Ross did some great things on guitar, Reginald Veal is a remarkable bass player and everyone fit together with soulful precision. The show was very well attended and the audience wanted to hear more. The encore started with Reginald Veal setting down a bass line for the Sting tune Fragile, another song with a great message in the context of current world events. Cassandra Wilson and her current lineup play music that warms peoples’ hearts and captures their imagination.
The talented Milwaukee artist Lil’ Rev started off the evening playing a variety of old-timey tunes on a variety of instruments. A great musician and storyteller, he never wants for material. Particularly interesting was a story he told about Leadbelly and the 12-string guitar before he performed one of his tunes.