SHANA MORRISON. At the Bottom Line, Greenwich Village, N.Y. May 18.
Being the child of one of popular music’s greatest singer-songwriters must have been intimidating and inspiring for Shana Morrison. The daughter of Van Morrison and Janet Planet, she first hit the stage with her father during his memorable “It’s Too Late to Stop Now” tour in 1973. She was 2 years old then.
Now all grown up, Shana Morrison has acquired her father’s musical eclecticism and added some of her own, including touches of hip-hop, neo-soul, and riot-grrrl gumption. Backed by Caledonia, a tight four-piece band (two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer), her singing alternately scorched and succored. Morrison’s voice shifted effortlessly from contralto to soprano, her timbre and pitch were nearly always spot on, and her inflection thickened with the blues or slipped into a sweetness apropos of pop.
Moving coltishly on stage, hips swaying and arms waving, Shana Morrison wrapped her elastic voice around “I Spy,” an original song fitting snugly within the musical territory staked out by Alanis Morissette. Her tone turned breezy in such relative pop confections as “7 Wishes” and wisely plaintive in “A Song for the Broken,” a song about a former lover who’s become “a shell of the man you used to be.”
Where she really cut loose, though, was in “Cherry on Top,” injecting a witty pastry conceit with the irresistible ribaldry Alberta Hunter once invested in the cooking metaphors wafting through Eubie Blake’s “My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More.” There’s little mystery behind lyrics like “I’d smooth it on real thick / I’d bake it with a brick / Do it just for kicks / With a cherry on top,” and Morrison took triumphant delight in this song of sharpening sexuality where a woman learns how to get what she wants from men.
Morrison also embraced her father’s fascination with spirituality in the uptempo, gospel-flecked “God Must Love Me,” in which she admits, “When I think I can’t go on / Every time I’m proven wrong.” Her brash singing of the bruising love song “Smoke in Bed” expertly captured the once burned, twice smart aspect of the lyrics: “All we ever had in common was our love of fire.” Even her covers of two lesser-known songs by Ray Charles and Buddy Miles, plus the Carter Family staple “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” bore all the traces of her father’s famed resistance to rote readings.
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Shana Morrison is her own singer, her own muse, her own woman, all sides of her that emerge episodically, not consistently, on her new album, “7 Wishes” (Vanguard), which suffers from Steve Buckingham’s overproduction. But those sides, and more, were in proud profile throughout the dynamic performance she gave at Manhattan’s Bottom Line.
— Earle Hitchner