Soulful singer Baby Jane Dexter
By JERRY TALLMER
Baby Jane, meet Robert Frost.
Baby Jane Dexter, we have seen you over the years as lion (correction: lioness) and as lamb. Last weekend the first of three current weekends at the Metropolitan Room on West 22nd Street one saw you, heard you, as both. But two-thirds of the way through the gig, the lioness and the lamb and the sweet ache of your meandering through some fine old torch songs had to make way, in this listeners head, for the Oven Bird of a poem by Robert Frost, and I was doubly swept by emotion.
Here it is, as much as I can respectably steal, seven lines out of 14, five from the top and two from the bottom:
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
This, the manifestation of the Oven Bird, occurred roughly at the point where B.J.s 90-minute threnody of love lost, or love never found, or love found-and-lost for a telephone mate, an evening of enchantment, a memory of make-believe, a man, a friend, or, not least, that Serendipity frozen hot chocolate thats been stalking her since the 1960s started gliding into something deeper, angrier.
Gliding is the wrong word. Working up steam. Shooting sparks. Lopping off the ends of songs, the last words of lyrics, a la Tennessee Williams in his Tokyo hotel.
Oh, there was warmth aplenty in the resurrection of some wonderful old heart-bangers that go way back, decades before the 60s Damn Your Eyes, Only Make Believe, The Very Thought of You, Dancing on the Ceiling but all of that came forth from a Stately, Thoughtful Baby Jane who occasionally broke into the fun of such as The Hang Up, a rueful telephone patter song written by herself and Drey Shepperd.
The angry Baby Jane was waiting that Baby Jane whom we first came to know through the contained rage of her reliving, in song, such things as a real-life 15 ugly minutes of rape on an even uglier basement floor.
Now, at the Metropolitan Room, that Baby Jane was somewhere in retreat until, after Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricuses happy/sad Candy Man, she voiced the fatal eternal words: I dont like you, but I love you, strengthening the case with a sign-off Fools Rush In. An enthralled audience brought her back for not one, not two, but three encores.
For that third and final number she went back to one of her dynamite closers of earlier years, walking out into the audience as, with gospel power a white woman with the black beat and black heat she sang, to each and all of us, who thirst for it just as much as she, Forever Young.
The question that she framed in all but words was what to make of how to supercede a diminished thing.
BABY JANE DEXTER. With music director Ross Patterson at the piano, Steve Doyle on bass, David Silliman on drums. February 15-17 and 22-24 at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, (212) 206-0440. $25 music charge plus two-drink minimum.