Show Review: The Women’s Blues Revue

By Teodora Pasca, Feature Photo via Randall Cook

On the night of November 22nd, the seats in Massey Hall went from being completely packed to completely empty. Why? This kind of show always ends in a standing ovation.

Featuring six talented vocalists and a phenomenal all-women eight-piece band, the Women’s Blues Revue breathes life back into an unfortunately neglected genre. It also empowers female musicians to fearlessly pursue their aspirations—the incredible talent on the Massey stage certainly hit that message home. Now in its 28th year, the event is hosted by the Toronto Blues Society, an organization devoted to preserving and promoting the blues music scene in the city.

Aside from just “playing the blues”, the Revue channeled the influence of old-school swing, jazz, folk, roots, and even rock and roll. The vocalists, each singing a three-song set, got the opportunity to showcase their unique talents (and personalities!), and the band showed off with a couple of instrumental numbers and some wickedly executed solos. All in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening for blues enthusiasts and newbies alike.

Statuesque and wildly charismatic, Shakura S’Aida kicked off the night with an original, intimate call-and-response number. “Blues is about moaning,” she declared —and she did exactly that with her rich, rugged vocals. Samantha Martin showed off her gospel-infused voice with an original ballad (think Otis Redding—in her own words). Accompanied by two of the three members of her band, Delta Sugar, those mournful vocal harmonies were absolutely heavenly.

Andria Simone left everything on the stage in her electric, blues-infused rendition of Janis Joplin’s classic “Piece of My Heart”. What was truly incredible was her volume and gritty vocalization (especially those blues growls). Following intermission, a solo by Juno Award-winning Revue Band member Suzie Vinnick showcased not only her solo skills as a guitarist, but a beautiful voice as well.

Vocalist Lori Yates brought a mix of sweet and sassy with her country-infused set—and showcased the skills of Revue Band member Brandi Disterheft (called “serious” by Oscar Peterson) on a killer double bass solo. Diana Braithwaite sang a haunting rendition of classic Bob Dylan’s “Rocks and Gravel”, accompanied by a percussive score.

Juno-award-winning Divine Brown closed the show. She was definitely the right choice: tremendous volume and a playful, confident attitude to match. Brown brought down the house with her high notes, accompanied by some serious shredding by Band guitarist Emily Burgess. The grand finale, a group rendition of “Will the Circle be Unbroken” had the entire audience on their feet by the end of the number.

As wonderful as the vocalists were, they didn’t overshadow the Revue Band, who in my opinion deserved a second standing ovation. All incredible musicians, they popped in and out of vocal numbers with sleek solos, as well as impressively executed a couple of group instrumental pieces. The Band is made up of Rebecca Hennessy (trumpet and musical director), Emily Burgess and Suzie Vinnick (guitar), Colleen Allen and Carrie Chestnutt (saxophone), Lily Sazz (keys), Brandi Disterheft (bass), and Morgan Doctor (drums).

I look forward to the Women’s Blues Revue every year. The familiar sound of the amazing Revue Band, as well as new and talented soloists, embodies the true essence of the genre, and that soulful feeling sticks with me long after the night is over. The concert ended late Saturday night—but I’ve still got the blues.

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