Orton, Crenshaw Sing Some Of Century's Best

Jimmie Dale Gilmore joins in for revue ranging from 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' to 'Louie Louie.'

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Songs about baseball, a highway and the

wonders of summer were on the program Saturday when a group of

singer/songwriters, including Marshall Crenshaw, Beth Orton and Jimmie

Dale Gilmore, set out to present the "Songs of the Century."

During a show at St. Ann's Church that boiled 100 years of music down to

29 tunes, Crenshaw sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and Bobby Troup's

"Route 66," and Orton took on the George Gershwin–DuBose Heyward classic

"Summertime."

"You know, folks, there's no more Route 66," Crenshaw said before singing

"Route 66," a song recorded over the years by pop crooner Nat King Cole,

rockers the Rolling Stones, synth-pop band Depeche Mode and various other

artists. "But we can still enjoy this fine pop song by Bobby Troup."

Crenshaw, Orton, country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore, R&B singer Sandra

St. Victor, and pop singers Martha Wainwright and Susan Cowsill took turns

as featured vocalist in front of a band led by ex-dB's singer and R.E.M.

sideman Peter Holsapple. The band included guitarist Dave Schramm, bassist

Graham Maby, drummer Alan Bezozi, and Cowsill and ex-Bangle Vicki

Peterson on backing vocals; Cowsill, Peterson and Holsapple constitute

half the lineup of the pop-rock band the Continental Drifters.

Janine Nichols, program director for Arts at St. Ann's, said the

three-hour-long setlist was put together after an informal survey of

musicians and songwriters about the century's best songs. "And we actually

invited 20,000 people that receive our season brochure to submit lists,"

she said. Organizers made a short list of important songwriters,

cross-referenced it to the list of songs, and then the performers lobbied

for personal favorites, Nichols said.

Popular opinion favored "Yesterday" as the one Beatles song to include,

"but we didn't know what we could bring to it," Nichols said. She suggested

"In My Life" instead.

Orton, who sang "In My Life" (RealAudio

excerpt of Beatles version) told the audience she wanted to do

it "first because I'm British, but also because it's f---ing beautiful."

St. Victor, the singer for the early-'90s funk band the Family Stand,

deployed her deep, soulful voice for her first tune, the Righteous Brothers

hit "Unchained Melody," which she built up from a near speaking voice to

a crescendo of emotion. For the rest of the night, the crowd applauded

at the mere sight of her, so strong was her performance.

Orton's first song was bluesman Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain"

(RealAudio

excerpt). The platinum-haired Gilmore lent his silver tongue to

Eddy Arnold's "You Don't Know Me," Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could

Cry" and the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht tune "Mack the Knife," which he

gave a slow and spare acoustic arrangement.

"I think variety is the keynote tonight," Gilmore said.

Wainwright, daughter of Loudon Wainwright and sister of Rufus Wainwright,

gave her voice to songs including the Disney tune "When You Wish Upon a

Star" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" — Judy Garland's signature

number from "The Wizard of Oz" — during what she called a children's

set.

The latter song sounded one of the few sour notes of the night, as it

repeatedly challenged the high end of Wainwright's vocal range. During

the night's second set she repented with "That's All Right, Mama" a blues

song by Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup that's better known as the A-side of Elvis

Presley's first single. It fit well within her range.

Crenshaw closed out the first set with a rousing version of "Town Without

Pity," made famous by Gene Pitney.

During intermission, the house mix featured a dozen runners-up, including

Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," the Velvet

Underground's "Sweet Jane" and Van Morrison's "Moondance."

The second set was more diverse than the first. Crenshaw sang the complete

lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which he said was written in

1917. And he hit an emotional high note with his personal selection of

the Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," a songwriters'

favorite from their acclaimed Pet Sounds (1966). In place of the

Beach Boys' theremin, Schramm sat down for a pedal-steel guitar solo.

Orton sang the sultry "Summertime," from Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess,"

in the style of Janis Joplin, and St. Victor represented Bob Dylan with

"Blowin' in the Wind."

Crenshaw made sure to enunciate every word of "Louie Louie," the three-chord

rock classic that the government once investigated for allegedly subversive

lyrics. Written by Richard Berry, it was a major hit for the Kingsmen in

1963.

The capacity audience of 600, which didn't receive a program until after

the show, reacted to each song as if it were playing "Name That Tune."

It took only a few piano notes for the crowd to recognize Bill Withers'

"Lean on Me," and precisely four thuds of the bass drum for them to whoop

it up for the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which Cowsill sang.

Nichols said that, on the theory that the century doesn't end until a

year from now, the performers are talking about repeating the program in

2000 — with a different setlist.