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Amel Larrieux @ Highline Ballroom 12/27/2009

During an intimate performance at Highline Ballroom on a cold Sunday night, New York-native Amel Larrieux warmed the crowd with her beautiful voice and angelic light. Beginning her set with a cover of Culture Club’s 80’s hit, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me,” she introduced songs like a mama bird nourishing her young: confident and sincere in her approach; soft-spoken, smooth and melodic in her energy.

Starting almost immediately into crowd favorite “For Real,” off of her second solo effort Bravebird, Amel pointed the microphone directly at us as a backdrop of purple, green and red lights covered the room, bodies swaying as we all sang, “I can live I can love I can be better with you, for real /I can hear I can feel I can see I can tell you, are for real.”

Though her last album, Lovely Standards was released in 2007, where she covered jazz tunes, this show was mostly-inspired by the other music she grew up loving, a throwback of 80’s and 90’s R&B and hip hop. With an opening DJ set of everything from Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” Zapp and Roger’s “I Want To Be Your Man” and H-Town’s “Knockin’ Da Boots,” Amel came with snippets of Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up” on “Keep Tryin,” as well as some serious, serious jazz riffs on “Magic” from 2006’s Morning.

Often compared to Minnie Ripperton because of her high-octave vocal range, one of the highlights of the night, Amel said that every time she sang the lovely “No One Else,” someone got engaged. True to form, a couple in the audience had gotten engaged earlier in the evening, and Amel got down on one knee and serenaded them with that vocal ability. I think everyone wanted to cry…and a few did.

Ending the night with her chart-topping hits “Tell Me” and “Get Up,” it was a no-frills performance. Simple set, small band. It was as much about the music as it was about love, emotions and family, as Amel’s 15-year old daughter, Sky, who’s an official member of the band on backing vocals and keyboards, dropped a solo that sent chills throughout the room, making everyone wonder – how in the world could someone so small have such an amazing voice? Then again, like mother, like daughter.

ND McCray

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