Playing in the West Australian Idolize Speigeltent as part of the Perth Fringe Festival, Tell Mama is an enjoyable, joyful, and smoothly executed show. My only complaints were the ineffective air-conditioning on a 39 degree day (and a 6pm show), and that my ears were ringing by the end due to the sound being too loud and over the top.
Etta James had a long and distinguished career from 1954 until the 1990s, including winning six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008. Many of her songs are recognisable, and even if not, the emotions and feelings expressed in them – heartache, love, friendship, music – are timeless.
Stratosfunk specialise in soul music from the 50s, 60s and 70s. This is a smooth band; they have the clothes, the hair, the dance moves, and the style down pat. The three female singers, Yara Neto (front woman), Amy Rosato and Jessie Gordon shimmied in sequined dresses that looked stunning on stage.
Neto opened with the namesake song “Tell Mama” which had the audience grooving and rocking from the first bar. Neto’s voice is rich and full, and she interacted well with the crowd. Songs “Payback”, and “All I could do was cry” followed before Rosato and Gordon performed the duet “In the basement”, complete with a great guitar solo from Jon Matthews.
Stratosfunk have been joined for this production by jazz artist Libby Hammer and rockabilly King Rusty Pinto. Whilst it was good to have a mix of performers, Pinto looked decidedly uncomfortable up on stage with Neto during their duet “Roll with me Henry” (written by James at the tender age of 14). Pinto could have done with learning some suitable dance moves, although his voice was fine and blended well. Trumpet and Flugelhorn player Robbie Bresland had a brilliant solo during “Roll with me Henry”, and his solo later in “Tough Lover” almost brought the house down.
Hammer of course was at ease with the music, with a more precise, crisp singing style compared to the other three performers as she performed “Tears of Joy” and “Good Rock’n Daddy”.
Other band members include Marek Sprogowski (Saxes, Flute), Gary Benness (Bass Guitar), Dom D’Leno (Drums), Daniel Greening (Trombone, Clarinet), and Glyn MacDonald on Keys (and musical arrangement). The group are tight, united and talented, although I noted during some songs they didn’t seem to be fully engaging (smiles work wonders boys – look like you’re enjoying yourselves).
The highlight was undoubtedly Neto’s rendition of “At Last”, which instantly brought goose bumps to my arms. The power in her voice and in the words themselves was stunning. “Something’s got a hold on me”, (younger audience members might know the FloRida/James remix) had the audience out of their seats and dancing in the aisles.
Tell Mama: The Music of Etta James is a great show – you will come out buzzing and on musical high. Tickets have nearly sold out, so get in quick.
Tell Mama: The Music of Etta James
Venue: Perth Cultural Centre | Northbridge, WA
Dates: 20 – 24 February 2013