Darlene Love is a disciple of the Phil Spector school of R&B. Her big, lustrous voice is remembered for such doo-wop milestones as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel.” In an inspired bit of cabaret programming, producer Michael Feinstein has teamed Love with Freda Payne, a singer who has made excursions into soul, jazz and musical theater as well as R&B.
The women take the stage like gangbusters, with an unacknowledged bow to the great Lena Horne, who introduced the fiery classic “Love” in the 1946 MGM film “Ziegfeld Follies.” This fervent opening duet of the Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane song sends an immediate message that the act won’t be just another nostalgic bow to the doo-wop era.
“At Last” boasts a pretty remarkable recorded history. The song, by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, was introduced in one of Glenn Miller’s rare film appearances, and it served the recorded careers of Nat King Cole, Arthur Prysock, Etta James and Miles Davis quite well. Love puts her own stamp on it. She gives it a big enveloping embrace, and proves that her shimmering pipes have retained a rich golden glow.
Later she even goes gospel with “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” recalling the foundation that motivated many stars of the ’60s. Growing up in the choir lofts of small-town churches inspired the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin. Love went for the roots, and the old hymn rocked the room.
Payne also displays a strong, flexible voice, singing with compelling force and a genuine depth of feeling. A nostalgic medley finds the femmes skirting through “Puppy Love”; “A Teenager in Love”; and Payne’s signature chart-topper, “Band of Gold.”
On a more sophisticated level, Payne renders the Matt Dennis timeless torcher “Angel Eyes” and the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen classic “Blues in the Night.”
Allen Sviridoff, who conceived the idea for “Love and Payne,” has written a tight, fast act; there’s no room for glib small talk or gloppy nostalgia. The little band wails and rips. Saxophonist Matt Catingub, who fronted the Big Kahuna for Rosie Clooney’s memorable final Gotham gig at Feinstein’s, did the musical arrangements, and his charts provide an incredibly solid foundation. The quintet wails with the force of the Basie band.
The divas wrap up with “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You,” a belted finale that really cooks.