Interest in L.A. singer-songwriter Vonda Shepherd is on the rise as her substantial role in Fox TV's "Alley McBeal" continues to earn her positive notices. Too bad her music career isn't quite ready to live up to the fortuity she's currently presented with. Saturday at the first of two Troubadour appearances (Shepherd plays a benefit Tuesday night for Homeless Veterans, along with cast members from "Alley McBeal" and "Melrose Place"), she appeared to alternate between composure and nervousness, never quite connecting with an audience eager to support the gregarious singer. Mixing Melissa Etheridge's earthiness, a bit of Tori Amos' sense of drama and the occasional yearning of a church choir member, Shepherd demonstrated ample tools, including aptitude on piano and acoustic guitar. Songs from her 1996 indie release "It's Good, Eve" were mostly pleasant, emotional affairs, but few rose above low-impact in the live setting. (In fairness, the often-distracting NFL Films crew with their bright lights --- on hand to shoot a video for her 1992 song "Searchin' My Soul" --- often took away from perf's intimacy.)
But her overall delivery lacked focus and fire, ultimately failing to move the listener, just as her smoky-bar scenes on “Alley McBeal” often are tame compared with the snappiness of the sitcom. Her capable band stayed mostly in the background; guitarist Val McCallum did shine on acoustic guitar during the love song “Serious, Richard.”
It was easy to recall powerful early career shows at the Troubadour in recent years by the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Amos and Sheryl Crow, when an overwhelming sense of strength, confidence and skill prevailed. Then, you knew you were seeing the start of something big. But not here.
On the contrary, Shepherd, 34, a 20-year-veteran of live performing around L.A., is someone who obviously wants very much to be a star. But she still needs to play a number of focused, low-key performances — perhaps outside of L.A. — to finally find her live footing, and to learn to effectively relate to an audience, if she’s to advance her station beyond that of just a sitcom lounge act with potential.