‘Music in the Mansion: Signature Theatre at Strathmore – Julia Nixon, Vocalist’ at the Strathmore Mansion by Ramona Harper

“Jazzman, take my blues away.” Julia Nixon’s tribute to Carole King did that and so much more as Julia cast a spell on a mesmerized audience putting smiles on our faces in an unforgettable evening of songs from yesteryear made eternally new. What a great way to wrap up a busy work week in the presence of the dynamic Julia Nixon gifting us with the songs of Carole King, master songwriter on Friday, November 1, 2013 in the Music Room of the Mansion at Strathmore. The universal thread of life, its love and loss, pain and joy is the tapestry that Julia wove with her own unique style and soulful interpretation of Carole King’s music. Julia Nixon has the kind of voice that makes you feel a song more than just hear it.

The intimate setting of the Mansion’s Music Room was the perfect venue to draw you close to feel the passion and the power of the music and lyrics of the great Carole King, recipient of the 2013 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Dynamic vocals together with Carole King’s brilliant composition and knowing lyrics couldn’t have been a more perfect combination for creating a night of song to be enjoyed and remembered.

Julia Nixon. Photo courtesy of The Music Center at Strathmore.
Julia Nixon. Photo courtesy of The Music Center at Strathmore.

Julia Nixon, home girl diva and Helen Hayes Award winner, has been on the DC music scene for more than 20 years. And like fine wine, Julia just keeps getting better with time. Opening the set with her longtime pianist, David Ylvisaker, Julia’s rendition of “So Far Away” was a slow and almost reverent acknowledgement that we were now in the midst of some extraordinary songwriting.

Julia’s 4-piece band joined them in a rousing, hand-clapping offering of “I Feel the Earth” that made it really hard to stay in your seat. Guitarist Orville Saunders’ opening solo was played with enough gutsy funk to just about move the earth and raise the roof, too. Another generation of Nixons came on set as Nicholas Nixon, Julia’s son, added back-up singing and bongos throughout the evening.

Carole King was a prolific songwriter who wrote in a variety of genres including folk rock. The lyrics of “Smackwater Jack” took us back to the Wild West when shotguns ruled and Julia and band rocked it with a Bayou sound.

If you are like most of the audience you might not have known that Carole King wrote more than two dozen chart hits for many artists. Carole’s first #1 hit as a songwriter was “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” which she wrote for the Shirelles when she was only 18 years-old. Julia sang King’s slow version of it with crescendos of the heartfelt kind that made you want to remember where you were back when. There’s nothing like an oldie-but-goodie to transport you back to the good ole days and Julia and band’s mellow offering took us there.

Come on baby, do the “Locomotion.” Hand-clapping had to suffice for dancing in the aisles as Julie had us join-in with this one – a song Carole King wrote for Dee Dee Sharp. Julia told us that the music of Carole King can be musically challenging and she herself had not known that Carole had written so many songs for herself and others.

Speaking at this point about Carole King’s life, Julie sang “Corazon” in Spanish with mostly piano playing softly in the background. “Corazon” means “heart” in Spanish and Julia sang it so.

Telling the audience, “We don’t know what Carole was going through when she wrote Tapestry,”  Julia beautifully sang the title song from Carole King’s most successful album, enhanced by the shimmering crescendos of drummer, Greg Granger.

The vibrant texture of Julia Nixon’s voice was special in her “slow it down” version of “It’s Too Late,” backed up by only piano and the soft patter of percussion. Julia’s full, rich-bodied voice was smooth and slow-harmonized by Nick Nixon to the offering of “You’ve Got a Friend.” She segued into “You Can Do Anything”, a collaboration between Carole and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, their modern version of “You’ve Got a Friend”. Julia’s band sang chorus for this much-loved song.

“Been to Canaan,” Julia’s next offering, had the full effect and sound of all the musicians’ synchronized playing in their exultant, uplifting, paean to our universal need for “a promised land.”

Hot fun in the summertime in the city and the sense of wanting to be back “Up on the Roof,” Julia’s next offering, was sung with a delightful ‘cha cha’ tempo and a light-hearted up-beat that made you want to be a teenager again when the Drifters made this Carole King song a hit.

“Jazzman” was another hand-clapping experience as Julia and company took our blues away with their lively, up-tempo rendition of this Carole King favorite. We all went to church and found redemption with Julia’s “Way Over Yonder” gospel presentation of one of King’s most soulful pieces. Gary Granger brought in the down-home rhythm on bass.

Julia segued into the final offering of the night with Carole King’s blue-eyed soul “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” popularized by Ms. Aretha Franklin. Soulful, powerful, wonderful are just a few superlatives to describe Julia and company on this funky, feel-good song.

For encore, Julie presented “Imagine Me Home”, telling the audience she knew Carole felt a deep sense of inspiration when she wrote this song – singing through pain to joy- and her own inspired joy in singing it.

Carole King. Photo by Elissa Kline Photography.
Carole King. Photo by Elissa Kline Photography.

Half of the songs from Julia’s 75 minute set were from Carole King’s 1971 Tapestry album. The lyrics from “Tapestry” spoke to the mood of the evening, the songs and the songstress:

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous, woven magic in its bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with a brief interval.

Music in the Mansion: Signature Theatre at Strathmore – Julia Nixon, Vocalist played on November 1, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at the Mansion at Strathmore – 10701 Rockville Pike, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events at Strathmore, check their calendar of events.




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