One of the more distinctive and durable voices to emerge from the early '60s folk boom, Tom Rush is more accustomed to playing crowded coffeehouses than plush supper clubs. But at Charlie's last night, Rush lost no time in making himself at home, or warming up to his opening-night audience. The result was a casual yet thoroughly satisfying performance that, in its eagerness to please, resembled something of a greatest-hits collection.
The first set, for instance, spanned 20 years, and tastefully blended traditional blues and folk tunes with well-chosen contemporary songs by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Townes Van Zandt and others. Mitchell's "Circle Game" and Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" were treated to Particularly sensitive interpretations, Rush's resonant voice carefully shading the lyrics while his guitar deftly outlined the melodies. His treatment of Browne's "Jamaica Say You Will" was further enhanced by Dean Adrien's soft harmonies and the incisive lead guitar work of Eric Lilljequist.
In contrast, the traditional material allowed more leeway.Rush took numerous liberties with "Duncan and Brady," turning it into a rousing, amusing and breathlessly told narrative. He also capped a personal recollection of the late bluesman Sleepy John Estes ("Every two or three minutes, John would nod out; all his songs are short") with a fervently percussive arrangement of "Rag Mama." However, no matter what the mood or tempo, Rush did both his reputation and his recordings proud.
Rush performs at Charlie's through Sunday.