I Feel a Song Coming On: A Peek at the Eclectic Season of Lincoln Center's American Songbook

By Barry Singer
05 Jan 2013

Stephanie Blythe

Bonnie "Prince" Billy (better known to his parents as Will Oldham) brings his lovingly dissipated sense of American folk rock to The Allen Room on Feb. 7, oozing echoes of San Francisco's Summer of Love and Buffalo Springfield. To best comprehend the breadth of American Songbook's musical scope, one only needs to consider the juxtaposition of Bonnie "Prince" Billy with Stephanie Blythe. Blythe, the Metropolitan Opera star, returns on Feb. 9 to reprise her Songbook triumph of last season: We'll Meet Again — The Songs of Kate Smith, Blythe's patriotic tribute to the big-voiced lady who turned "God Bless America" into her own personal anthem.

The presence of Sondre Lerche leading off the third week of American Songbook on Feb. 13 reminds us that American pop music is also world music. The Norwegian singer-songwriter first conquered Scandinavia and then the rest of Europe before moving to Williamsburg, Brooklyn a few years ago and becoming a full-fledged American indie rocker. His Beatles-inspired, Revolver-esque songwriting and recording style is harmoniously off-kilter and terrifically engaging.

Countering the fresh with the classic, Songbook will turn to Mavis Staples on Feb. 14, the Grand Dame of the Staples family, who will shower her Allen Room audience with the unyielding gospel spirit of soul music, Staples style.

The hugely talented Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth returns to American Songbook. As a performer, the Tony Award-winning singer and actress leads and — to paraphrase Thomas Paine — everyone else just gets out of the way. On Feb. 15, in The Allen Room, Chenoweth will deliver an evening of unadulterated Kristin Chenoweth (Drama Desk winner Mary-Mitchell Campbell is the music director, with Richard-Jay Alexander helping to shape it).

Songbook's third week concludes with the political activist and balladeer Tom Morello, best known for his guitar work in the band Rage Against the Machine. On Feb. 16, Morello will perform with his own acoustic act, The Nightwatchman, whose politicized Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan influences are uncompromising.