Renaissance Hotel Patriot Place, Foxborough, MA
January 12, 2017
Alissa Musto reached out to me via Twitter just last week. I checked out her music, was impressed, and will be reviewing her album What We Saw From the Piano Bar a few weeks from now. Because of my significant review backlog, and because Alissa had some local shows scheduled, I thought it might be nice to get out to review a gig while the album worked its way through my review queue. And last night’s show was an early 6:00 PM set that I could get to easily from home and still be back by 9:00. Early set in the outer suburbs? If you’ve been following this Blog for long, you know that’s my sweet spot, so on this cooperatively temperate winter evening I zipped down the interstate to catch a live performance.
Some of you may recognize Alissa’s name. Yes, she is the current, reigning Miss Massachusetts. And, as I discovered upon digging into her music, a serious musician. Pardon me, a serious singer-songwriter-musician. In my estimation, she’s got the chops to entertain rooms ranging from intimate jazz clubs to concert halls.
The set-up is a little unusual at this hotel. The performance space is in the lobby lounge area, but it’s directly adjacent to the hotel restaurant bar, Twenty 8 Food & Spirits. As a result, bar patrons can enjoy the music, as can hotel guests in the adjacent lounge; the lobby is relatively open all the way to check-in at the opposite end leading to the main parking lot, so guests get a taste of the music while coming and going, too.
This evening was a bit of a treat, as Alissa, who usually performs solo, was joined by her younger brother William on guitar. He handled his contributions to the performance with aplomb, especially seeming to excel on some of the jazzier tunes.
Given the setting, Alissa’s performance was a bit toned down; I’m sure I’ll find a way to catch her at a venue appropriate for a livelier performance during which she can fully belt out some of her songs without disturbing guests at the check-in counter. She clearly has the range and power to do it; it’s a testament to her control and professionalism that she was able to deliver heartfelt accounts of some of the more powerful vocal numbers while still adjusting to the mellower delivery requirements. (I suppose I could’ve stuck around after the show and asked her to belt one out in the parking lot afterwards; maybe next time.)
I arrived a couple minutes past 6:00, early in Alissa’s smooth, rich, full vocal performance of the R&B standard “Kansas City.” Over the course of the evening, she covered jazz, R&B, pop, and rock songs old and new.
Throughout the set, Alissa dipped deeply into her broad-based vocal arsenal. My first impression of her was that she had a strong voice with a hint of tuneful gravel. That was on frequent display last night, though just as often she pulled the emotion from the songs via a sometimes evocative, husky hoarseness – again, just a hint – instead. On yet other occasions, she utilized a unique vocal technique that adds texture to her songs; it’s one of the cool, unique elements I’ve picked up on in her vocals – and you know I get most excited about vocalists who have their own trademark elements – but the best description I’ve come up with yet is warbling, and I don’t think that properly conveys its tunefulness or effectiveness.
Back to the evening’s performance, though, I’ll start by recounting the originals. I counted at least three, and there were likely one or two more, as I’m only just becoming familiar with Alissa’s originals and may not always recognize them. Early in the set, she performed “Black Flak,” a smooth number adorned by soft but soulful and heartfelt vocals; the whole song has a bit of a Don McLean “American Pie” vibe to it. And the other song whose name I know – the one song request I made, in fact, since it’s my early favorite from Alissa’s album – was “Brovada.” Lyrically, it’s a very cleverly phrased alter ego song; vocally, both the warbling and hoarse approaches I mentioned earlier were used, to particularly great effect in combination with the lyrics.
The covers covered a bit of ground. Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” kicked off with serious ivory-tickling and featured a cool, jazzy, small vocal run to things things up, subtle enough to likely be missed by anyone not paying close attention; it’s those little touches, indeed, that make songs truly interesting. Alissa utilized a full piano sound an smooth, extra jazzy vox on Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.”
But the selection wasn’t limited to jazzy R&B. There was an über-hip version of “Route 66,” a rendition of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” featuring dynamic vocals, and a somewhat torchy performance of “New York State of Mind.” Alicia sang “Desperado” with a slight quaver while moving around rather significantly within the pocket, dancing around the melody, delivering a relatively personal rendition of such an often-covered tune. She emphasized raspiness on “Not Gonna Write You a Love Song,” with crisp keyboardwork accenting her gently powerful vocals. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was performed smoothly but with character in the vocals and with some cool, jazzy phrasing. And Alissa delivered Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2 A.M.)” with serious vocal texture.
In the end, the song selection of covers and originals hinted at the breadth of Alissa Musto’s capabilities; and, while the room required the softer touch she used this evening, the performance left no doubt about her versatility for multiple venue types and her overall talent as an artist. It’s going to be fun watching Alissa’s career continue to unfold.
I can unflinchingly implore you to get to a live performance. Shows like the one at the Renaissance Hotel are mellow and jazzy. I believe the Saturday nights at Jacob Wirth will be much more raucous. So try to gauge the performance by the venue; Alissa does adapt her performances to suit the rooms. You have two more opportunities to see her perform this weekend. Tonight, Friday, January 13th, she’ll be at Tavolo Wine Bar in Providence, RI from 6:30 to 10:00. And tomorrow, Saturday, January 14th, she’ll be at Jacob Wirth in Boston from 8:00 PM to midnight. Alissa lists upcoming shows here on her website.