“She’s the one from Ally McBeal, right?” The infuriating yet somehow predictable question I get asked when I say I am reviewing Vonda Shepard this evening. Whilst the friend concerned is quite right, I can’t help but feel she has just reduced an established songwriter and musician to a chintzy pop-singer-turned-actress whose career peaked in a 90’s TV show, and this troubles me. What people forget is that whilst the programme provided Shepard with her ‘big break’, she was already an establised artist with three albums and a US top ten single under her belt when she was picked up by producer David E. Kelley in 1997. In fact, most of the tracks which featured on the soundtracks were rehashed from these albums and even the show’s theme Searchin’ My Soul, by far the biggest crowd pleaser of the evening (despite the somewhat unusual addition of a soundman on acoustic guitar), was reworked from her 1992 album The Radical Light.
It is gratifying, then, that Shepard opens the last show of her European tour with three tracks from her 2008 album From The Sun with a confidence telling of almost 20 years in the industry. The calibre of her band is similarly impressive and she introduces Johnny Cash bassist Jim Hanson and Tina Turner’s guitarist of 22 years James Wolston to the audience with a sense of pride which seems quite fitting. Individual talent does not, of course, always make for a great ensemble performance but it is clear from their careless and often goofy banter that this is a band that truly enjoys playing together, making them a joy to watch in such an intimate venue.
On grand piano, Shepard belts out Wildest Times Of The World and Like A Hemisphere to a hushed crowd but the tour de force is unmistakably the classic Aretha Franklin hits Every Natural Thing and Sweet Inspiration which she flies through effortlessly in a kind of enigmatic reverie. It is this uninhibited passion for music which classifies her live shows and makes the enjoyment truly infectious.