Valerie Simpson’s show Friday night (April 11) at B.B. King’s in New York certified her emergence as a solo performer as special as the duet partner she had played for decades alongside her late husband Nick Ashford in Ashford & Simpson.
She played before an SRO hometown crowd made up of celebs like Spike Lee, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., PR legend Liz Rosenberg and George Faison (the Tony-winning choreographer of The Wiz, who also created the unforgettable A&S concert dance routines); also in the house were familiar denizens of Ashford & Simpson’s Upper West Side restaurant/nightclub The Sugar Bar, and artists like Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown, who went all the way back to when Simpson and Ashford were songwriters at Scepter Records.
Also from the Scepter years was onetime Ikette Joshie Jo Armstead, who co-wrote with Ashford and Simpson their breakthrough composition “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” She joined Simpson and other luminous female vocalists (including Alyson Williams, Felicia Collins, Ebony Jo-Ann and Simpson’s daughter and backup singer Asia Ashford) during the spectacular “I’m Every Woman” encore.
The main set included A&S classics from their Motown songwriting and post-Motown performing careers, with “Found a Cure,” their 1979 dance/disco crossover pop hit, being a particularly welcome addition.
But the night’s biggest revelation came late in the set when she performed the tiltetrack of her recent solo album, Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again.
She first related the story of how Ashford came up with the metaphorical concept: The couple were waiting to meet with a top record company executive when they suddenly experienced the “dinosaur feeling” that comes to anyone past a certain very young age in the music business--or any other one, for that matter. And while they didn’t get a record contract, they did get a song that expresses the plight of the older generation represented in the club—along with optimistic encouragement for its future.
“Each and every one of us is entitled to have a 'Part Two' in our lives,” said Simpson. “Maybe you have spent the first half looking after someone, or working at some job or taking care of some children. Now that most of that is done, now that you have accomplished what you first set out to do, it’s time for you to claim the second half.”
She preached, warmly but sternly.
“Be perfectly selfish about it! Stand boldly and state what you want and go out and find it! Don’t hesitate—it might be too late. Don’t wait!”
All you need is a theme song, Simpson added. “Everybody needs a theme song.”
And so she provided one in “Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again.”
“You should see us coming,” she sang. “Bigger and badder than before.”
She traded scatted riffs with her saxophonist Todd Schefflin’s tyrannosauric shrieks.
“I see some Part Two's in the room!” she said when they finished. “I’m expecting great things from you.”
After the show, the rumbling on the steps leading outside the club and on the sidewalks were likely the stomping of the herd as it exited, or any of the subway trains running beneath Times Square. Or, perhaps, it was the sound of the reappearance of a formerly dormant force of nature.
[The Examiner wrote liner notes on several Ashford & Simpson CD and DVD releases.]
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