Rachelle Ferrell: A World Of Dazzling Vocal Versatility

Monday, July 9, 2007

Is there a more stressful way for a singer to spend a few minutes onstage than going toe-to-toe with vocalist Rachelle Ferrell? Don't bother asking Ledisi. She was recruited by Ferrell, her friend and booster, for a duet at the Birchmere on Saturday night, and for a while all Ledisi could say -- or sing -- were four words: "You make me nervous!"

And understandably so. Along with a capacity crowd, Ledisi had just spent an hour witnessing a commanding performance by Ferrell, in which she freely and fluidly tapped her R&B, jazz, pop, funk and world beat influences.

Whether playing guitar or piano, or allowing her versatile quartet to support her while she sang and danced, Ferrell seemed capable of producing just about any imaginable sound or flourish, including some octave-leaping runs that would make Bobby McFerrin's head spin.

It's a wonder Ledisi didn't bolt for the nearest exit, but she composed herself long enough to participate in a show-stopping duet, laced with gospel-charged fervor and gratitude.

As always, Ferrell's performance celebrated self-affirmation and social unity. She sang "Sista" early on, and many women in the audience eagerly contributed harmonies throughout the set. Responding to the inevitable flurry of requests, Ferrell nimbly revisited "Bye Bye Blackbird," and offered fresh takes on "With Open Arms," " 'Til You Come Back to Me" and "Welcome to My Love," among other favorites. Dazzling technique didn't always serve the lyric at hand -- "My Funny Valentine," for one -- but Ferrell's extraordinary gifts and charisma were truly something to behold.

-- Mike Joyce

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