Review: Betty Buckley Returns to Joe’s Pub with “Story Songs #2”

Just after delivering a dreamy version of the Jerome Kern/Ira Gershwin ballad, “Long Ago and Far Away,” the legendary and seemingly eternally young performer Betty Buckley almost welcomed her opening night audience to The Bottom Line, before laughing and acknowledging her near mistake. It was an understandable slip—many of her loyal fans at Joe’s Pub had no doubt followed her from at least as “long ago and far away” as that mythic West Village venue where she performed for many years.

In “Story Songs #2,” her fourth show at Joe’s Pub at the Public (she’ll be performing two shows a night from October 12-15), the actress and singer exemplified both versatility and fearlessness. Versatility because she covered a diverse range of musical genres, including rock (Steely Dan and Lisa Loeb), pop (Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Mary Chapin Carpenter), Broadway (Jason Robert Brown), and the Great American Songbook (Kern/Gershwin and Johnny Richards/Carolyn Leigh), with her old friends T Bone Burnett and JD Souther thrown in for good measure. Fearlessness, because “Story Songs #2” presents all-new material—much of it complex and some of it not easily accessible—rather than relying on her “greatest hits” or tried and true songs from her 17 albums or award-winning Broadway roles. Buckley is an artist who admirably continues to push her own limits, to creatively grow and explore, providing her audiences with both inspiration and entertainment in the process. (The plan is to release “Story Songs #2” as a follow-up album to her nationally-acclaimed “Story Songs”).

After a moody, bluesy instrumental opening number, Oregon’s “Ecotopia,” that showcased the virtuosity of her four top-notch backup musicians (Grammy-nominated musical director/arranger Christian Jacob on piano, Tony Marino on bass, Oz Noy on guitar, and Dan Rieser on drums), Buckley took the stage. Dressed in a chic black pant suit over a hip camo-patterned top set off by her signature white pixie haircut and sparking eyes, she launched into Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.” Deeply feeling the lyrics, she used the song to convey a message of hope during dark times: “Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend; Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again. When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more. Any major dude will tell you.”