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Jane Enkin

Review of Al Simmons with Daniel Koulack, Greg Lowe and Ron Paley

By Jane Enkin, March 2. 2012

Comedy singer Al Simmons gave a very special concert at the Park Theatre on February 18. Like many Winnipegers, especially those who have raised or taught young kids (I've done both), I've seen Al Simmons perform in many festivals, usually outside or in a noisy tent, always a short program with recorded music. What a fantastic treat to hear a full concert, with three of Winnipeg's best musicians sharing the stage.

Ron Paley shone on accordion, his first instrument – tucked into the program was the first piece he ever performed. Paley, a renowned pianist, big band leader and arranger, can count among his many other accomplishments his appearance in the 2009 Mameloshen Festival. Ron Paley will close this season's Music 'N' Mavens at the Rady JCC on Thursday, March 8.

Daniel Koulack had fun on upright bass. Multi-instrumentalist Koulack was a member of klezmer band Finjan and leader of The Klezmer Kids. Among his many current projects, Koulack has a new klezmer band, The Black Sea Station.

Greg Lowe had some hot solos on guitar. Lowe is a jazz musician who frequently composes for orchestras as well as smaller ensembles.

Of course, since it was an Al Simmons show the trio played every style of music imaginable. Simmons had prepared a long list of potential songs, and played around with the order. At one point he called over his shoulder, “Play this one with a reggae beat.” No problem. There were some challenges in communication, but the pay-off was great music, with lots of spontaneous kidding around.

This was the most musical Al Simmons show I've heard, with some numbers simply sung. Simmons wrings the maximum cheese factor out of Latin standards like Brazil and cowboy, country, romantic ballads and – well any genre for a solo singer. He has a fine voice, as flexible as his face and his long, lean physique.

The show ranged from Simmons' newest composition, about a Cajun Alligator, to his first kids' song. Simmons writes songs, but I love it when he adds his own slant to old-time songs like “Where Did You Get That Hat?” There was lots of wordplay, groan-inducing puns and general silliness. After several rousing choruses of “Don't Make Me Sing Along” -- “Keep the houselights low, I'm not in the show, don't make me sing along!” -- the audience was primed to join in on the many familiar songs and some less well known ones.

The greatest reaction, especially from the many children at the matinee performance I attended, was to Simmons' brilliant sight gags. He makes incredible use of props, costumes, and especially hybrids of the two. A suit jacket has hundreds of hiding places for a feather collection; hats sprout and spray in all directions.

This might be the first time I've seen the elaborate visuals for Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long. This is a classic performance (recorded on Simmons' CD Celery Stalks At Midnight) of a classic parody of a classic song – Jewish comedian Milton Berle wrote the crazy lyrics to the melody of Lawd, You Made the Nights Too Long. Al Simmons ups the ante by adding his own pun-filled, Brooklyn-inflected introduction.

I had to wait until the end of the show for one of my favourite numbers, Simmons' version of Edith Piaf's La Vie En Rose. He sings it straight and lovely, in French – it's the visual routine that sends us into hysterics.

Which is right where we belong, at an Al Simmons show.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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