At a time when contemporary artists like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Robert Palmer all aspire to suave soul-man status, it's nice to hear one of the first and coolest models of all. "The Ice Man," Jerry Butler, opened the first of four evenings at Blues Alley last night impeccably tailored in a cream-colored suit and still outfitted with one of the most gloriously silken voices in pop music.
Butler's set ranged from early Chicago hits like "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" to Philly soul songs like "Hey Western Union Man," and on to more modern material. Unlike most soul singers, Butler never fell into vocal histrionics, instead insisting on a dignified but no less emotional account of romance and heartbreak.
The show had a number of highlights, including a powerful duet between Butler and Deborah Henry on "Don't Be Like an Island." Butler's relaxed delivery and commanding stage presence may have been cool, but his vocals projected nothing less than a deep emotional warmth. He ended with a stunning rendition of his first hit, "For Your Precious Love," dragging his big voice from syllable to syllable in an almost religious display of romantic desire.