Broadway diva Betty Buckley has returned to her perch at the Cafe Carlyle with a new program of standards and evocative contemporary compositions. The Lone Star chanteuse altered the title of her program from “A Time for Love” to “Smoke” — a word that describes the essence of her songs. The atmospheric vapors of her repertoire fill the air with memories of those perfect moments in life and a few that might have been marked by heartbreak. As an actress, the lady is a consummate storyteller, drawing from the landscape of life a broad and captivating perspective of celestial imagery.
Buckley sang with persuasive crystalline textures, nicely harnessing the temptation to belt with the big Broadway boom of which she is most capable. Instead, she caressed melody and lyrics with phrasing that was both descriptively telling and braced by subtle allure.
Few lyricists have provided such clever exploration for out-of-space sentiment as Johnny Mercer. Opening with the infectious “hoodoo” of “Day In, Day Out,” Buckley explores the “alabaster palace and aurora borealis” of “Midnight Sun,” penned by the Savannah songwriter as he listened to the Lionel Hampton composition on the radio. Set to an infectious drum intro by Jamey Haddad, the next blastoff is “Out of This World” an ardent extraterrestrial journey by Mercer and Harold Arlen.
An alluring medley of tunes by Antonio Carlos Jobim and the failed fantasies of Mercer’s “A Time for Love” merge with contemporary classics by Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor and Tom Waits. Randy Newman’s down home “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” brings out the gritty panhandle of Buckley’s roots.
This is an enveloping and alluring evening of cabaret crooning, never more reflectively poignant than with the wistful sentiment of “Blame It on My Youth” by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman. Heartbreak has seldom been served with such a trenchant thrust.