(January 7, 2011 – West Palm Beach, Fla) Clint Holmes returned to the Kravis Center stage Friday to help Maestro Bob Lappin and the Palm Beach Pops continue the celebration of the group’s 20th season.
The evening featured a new show based on what the singer/songwriter/entertainer does best: working a crowd with songs, stories and schtick, with a friendly persona and commanding vocals through quiet, introspective ballads and brawling big numbers alike.
Despite clocking in on the long side at two hours and 40 minutes with intermission, this third of six programs in the 2012 series offered plenty of nice moments spotlighting several key players and was well received by the opening night crowd, who didn’t seem to mind the extra helpings in the least.
In the opening act, the orchestra came out swinging with Henry Mancini’s suspenseful romp, Strings On Fire, followed by a lush arrangement of the classic All The Things You Are. Both tunes gave the string section a chance to warm up and stretch a bit.
An extremely tasteful medley honoring the legendary Perry Como set the scene for a beautiful new twist on a Pops favorite, Old Man River. Starting sweetly with cellist Cornelia Brubeck, accompanied by Lappin on piano, the show tune from Show Boat expanded nicely to the jazz trio on the second pass, where it probably should have stayed. The ensuing solos from the talented rhythm section of bassist Ransis Colon and drummer Frank Derrick, both journeymen musicians of the highest caliber, did not really serve much of a point, since these guys shine all the time.
After the break, it was all about Holmes. A Las Vegas staple who received raves from the A-listers in attendance at a limited engagement at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York last spring, the singer not only came to play but also delivered in spades.
Best known for his 1973 Top 10 hit Playground In My Mind, Holmes unveiled a new show, Inspired, for this Pops appearance, his third with the group in as many years. It’s an autobiographical Hit Parade that showcases the music of Holmes’ personal heroes and, in the process, his versatility.
Though the program was really not all that different from the material presented in the previous outings here, there are some great new arrangements by musical director and pianist Jeffrey Neiman, whose energy is equally contagious. And the quality of that material — tastefully selected, beautifully arranged to make good use of the orchestra and presented in a polished delivery — was undeniable and a whole lot of fun.
Opening with a solid one-two punch of Nat King Cole’s Orange Colored Sky and the classic showstopper Birth of the Blues (a tune many performers close with), Holmes & Co. set the stage for a wild ride down memory lane, from Nat to Frank to Sammy, among others, with some interesting stops along the way.
Among the highlights were a completely fresh take on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which accented the tune’s moving message with solid playing by both Neiman and the string section, and an emotional reading of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
In his quest to win over every audience by sheer willpower, Holmes puts it all on the line like few others performing today.
And just as he has been inspired by so many of the greats over the years, his approach to the craft seemed to inspire those performing with him Friday night, resulting in a very enjoyable evening at the Pops.