One powerhouse singer paid tribute to another in “Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook” an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Printing Partners Pops concert featuring vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway, Saturday at Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.
Callaway, who previously hosted and co-hosted (with sister Liz Callaway) the ISO’s annual “Yuletide Celebration” performed several other times with the ISO. Well known to Central Indiana audiences she performed in “Ann Hampton Callaway: The Streisand Songbook” at The Palladium in 2015. That concert which was an enormous success and one which Callaway continues to tour, led to her desire to honor Ronstadt, the multiple Grammy Award-winning singer, who performed and recorded in diverse genres including rock, country, light opera, and Latin.
During her concert with the ISO, led by conductor Jack Everly, Callaway was also accompanied by her quartet including her music director, esteemed pianist-singer Billy Stritch, guitarist Bob Mann, (who played for Ronstadt), Stephen Hannah on drums and Peter Hansen on base. Callaway’s program consisted of many of Ronstadt’s biggest hits that included songs from the Great American Songbook and rock & roll tunes that made the retired singer famous
To set the mood, the ISO opened the concert with an overture that included songs from The Great American Songbook that included “How About You,” “Singing In The Rain,” “Chasing the Blues Away,” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Sprinkling her set with humorous stories and information about Ronstadt’s storied career, Callaway projected a breezy and easygoing personality. Conveying warmth and familiarity, she thoroughly connected with the audience as she showcased her sultry, rich and full-bodied sound in vocals that were nearly flawless. An added attraction of Callaway’s concert were arrangements created by Ronstadt collaborator Nelson Riddle that were utilized throughout the concert.
Act 1 songs included “What’s New,” “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” “Blue Bayou,” and “You’re No Good.” Though Callaway subtly made the songs her own, she sang them much as Ronstadt did, to the delight of obvious fans who Callaway encouraged to clap and sing along.
Act 2 highlights included “Someone To Watch Over Me,” a song Callaway said was one her late mother, a noted voice teacher, used to sing. Other Ronstadt songs covered included Smokey Robinson’s (Ronstadt was a huge fan)“The Tracks of My Tears,” “Am I Blue,” and “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.” Another high point was Callaway and Stritch singing a moving duet of “Somewhere Out There,” the theme song for “An American Tail,” the 1986 Disney animated film.
Next in the program, was an audience participation segment which Callaway regularly presents during her concerts in which she ask audience members to help her improvise a song. In this case it was to be a Linda-esque song. Throwing out questions to the audience, she asked them to call out answers which she then wrote down. Once she gathered enough “lyrics,” she sat down at the piano, accompanied by her quartet, and proceeded to perform a bluesy-rock song about a woman falling in love with a race car driver with the two of them marrying in Speedway. It was quite a display of what is actually, a rare talent, that to my knowledge, only one other entertainer of stature, the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, possessed. I had the pleasure of seeing him do the same sort of improvisation in several concerts with the ISO and one at The Palladium.
After firing up the audience with her last number “That’ll Be The Day, ” for her encore, Callaway performed The Eagles’ “Desperado” which Ronstadt popularized when she included her poignant version on her 1973 album “Don’t Cry Now.”
Having seen Callaway perform in the two previously mentioned “Yuletide,” productions, another ISO Pops concert and the one at The Palladium, I well knew what to expect. And of course, the fact that she took on and was a success at at interpreting Streisand’s songbook, was enough evidence for me that she could do justice to Ronstadt’s repertoire as well. Happily I can report the versatile artist delivered the goods.