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Kim Riley shines in solo acoustic & duo format; rocks Whippersnappers with fine selections and delivery

By Bill Copeland on December 31, 2012

Kim Riley has been playing out professionally for several years. Both in her native Boston area and now up in her adopted home state of New Hampshire. So, it’s no wonder that the versatile cover performer can dig up all sorts of songs from her huge binders of song lists. Riley even performed “Mad World” from the Donnie Darko movie soundtrack.

Riley performed about half of the songs solo acoustic and the other half with her usual duo partner, Tom Davis. She began her gig with “Heart Of The Matter” by Don Henley. Right out of the gate Riley sang with a crystal clear voice and easy command of the vocal phrasing through the twisty lyrics. Riley then went into “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers, putting a lot of heart and soul in her earthy, organic timbre. Davis shadowed her with a smooth, dark bass run, keeping the bottom of the song intact while impacting its emotional colors and tones.

Riley delivered a warm, embraceable version of “Waking In Memphis,” providing a groove and a vibe that made you feel like you were walking around a major historic city. She was also ethereal as an opera singer on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” nailing the subtle nuances with her cooing and other techniques, delivering the emotional weight of the song with only her acoustic guitar for support.

Riley and Davis want to do much more with their songs than merely play a perfunctory bar band rendition. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic found Davis using his bass runs to keep it rooted in the sixties feeling while making it timeless for listeners of all generations. Riley, here, added inflection that put some new life into something we’ve all heard a million times before.

Riley’s rendition of “Woodstock” was somewhere in between the Crosby, Stills, and Nash cover and the Joni Mitchell original. Not too many singers would risk comparison to Mitchell, but Riley tackled it like a pro, fearless, generously offering her own rich rasp in this statement song that speaks to a generation.

This singer could certainly hold a nice sweet vocal note long enough to handle Elton John’s “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.” Segue into “Hey Jealousy” by Gin Blossoms and Riley rode the modern uptempo rock chords like she was riding a Harley. Davis, too, gave it a little extra sense of movement.

Neil Young’s “The Needle And The Damage Done” may have been the saddest song Young ever recorded. Riley recreated the sense of forlorn loss this song speaks of when she sang “every junky’s like a setting sun.” Young must be a personal favorite of Riley’s because she, right after, went into “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” It was almost as melancholy as “Needle,” and Riley and Davis did a find job of putting across the essential Neil Young expression of personal torment.

Riley sounded really cool when she phrased Eric Clapton’s hippy vibe tale “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Her acoustic guitar playing made a full bodied sound that, especially when accompanied by Davis, has as much flavor and oomph as larger combos. She finessed the tender melody of this Clapton classic from his 1975 E.C. Was Here album.

Pulling the audience back into the present. Riley sang Goyette’s “Somebody That I Used To know,” her voice drawing the twisty words out to the forefront. Her vocal sustains on the ride out were particularly pretty.

Maintaining a modern theme, Riley went into the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” with a particularly rich timbre, making her way through the rocker with it’s larger than life vocal impressions. Like David Grohl in the original, Riley made it feel that something even larger is coming at you around over the next bend.

“Hotel California” is another we’ve heard 10,000 times, yet Ms. Riley can still get inside of the heart of the song and bring that feeling forward, making it fresh in the pared down rendition. And her wingman Davis is no slouch either. “Mr. Jones” by The Counting Crows featured Riley’s lovely coos and a hearty dose of her rich as gold timbre.

“Only The Lonely.” “Ricky, Don’t Lose That Number,” and “Squeezebox” showcased more of her variety, allowing Riley to sing high and pretty, raspy and svelte, and mock country-folk all in a row. Davis’s bass runs on The Who number were very competent and danceable.

“Sweet Melissa” let Riley show what she can do with the roots rock stuff and Alice Cooper’s “I’m 18” found her turning a 1970s rock anthem into a personal folksy, singer-songwriter lament, a deeply felt story about youthful inner turmoil. Are you getting the idea yet, gentle readers, that this lady has got real talent as an interpreter and performer?

Riley’s vocal’s were soulful as hell on CSN’s “Southern Cross” with Davis playing some deep, emotive bass lines to support her strengths. She played a kicking version of The Goo Goo Dolls’ “I Wanna Wake Up Where You Are” and a mournful version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.”

Riley’s selection of “Mad World” by Gary Jules from the Donnie Darko soundtrack was unknown to most patrons of the bar, but it was certainly a welcome continuation of her fine choices. The singer offered more of her cooing beauty on Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” and she turned the Pink Floyd classic “Wish You Were Here” into another folk song vibe.

Riley closed out her set with Stephen Stills memorable 1970s radio hit “Love The One You’re With.” She kept the pace lively, and she nailed the rapid fire delivery and sudden stop of the ending verse.

Riley is an artist of massive experience, knowledge, and talent. Aside from being a very in-demand singer in greater-Manchester, she has potential to achieve even greater heights in the New England music scene.