Singer Oleta Adams began her two-hour set at the Birchmere on Sunday night by gliding subtly through the first couple of up-tempo numbers that seemed designed primarily to be a warm-up for her overly enthusiastic four-member band. The singer gave a particularly intoxicating performance of the Gibbs Brothers' "To Love Somebody." It's typically interpreted as a lament to unrequited love, but Adams's reading -- punctuated by her deeply haunting alto and dissolving, near wordless phrasing -- transformed the gospel-infused classic into a narrative of ardent acceptance.
Having established her footing, Adams went into a medley of her own crowd-pleasing hits. With such songs as "Circle of One," "I've Got to Sing My Song" and "Rhythm of Life," the audience was treated to an abundant demonstration of the singer's signature gospel- and jazz-informed techniques.
The band (with Adams's husband, John Cushman, on drums) was at times stridently peremptory, with riffs that sped up several slow-tempo songs. In other songs, the band threatened to overshadow the textural depth of her vocals and faultless piano work. Adams seemed unperturbed, however, choosing instead to capitalize on moments of mild accompaniment when she could expand warm beseeching tones into melismatic arabesques that resonated well after the notes ended.
-- Phyllis Croom