Because 16-year-old Liz Lucas learned how to grow the indigo plant when she inherited her father's farms in South Carolina and shared her knowledge, the dye became a major colonial export and Elizabeth an influential woman in American history whose husband, Charles Pinckney, lost presidential bids to Madison and Jefferson.
Indigo, a mood-evocative and musical word in itself, is also a potent and mood-hauling title in the arsenal of original tunes Sylvia Bullett brought to Tinker Street Cafe Sunday night. With an adjustment of settings on her Roland RD-500 keyboard, Bullett created a nonvisual illusion of smokiness in the smokeless air of Judy Whitfield's "Women In Music" series with her delicate and breathy ballad.
A far-stretched irony was missed when Bullett followed the song with a quip about an announcement at Giants Stadium for the parents who may have left their kids behind to pick them up because they were beating the team. The real NFL shocker of the day was the mighty Superbowl champion 49ers' defeat by the upstart Carolina Panthers, who play their home games so close to the old Lucas farmlands that their jerseys should be indigo. Well, I told you it was far-stretched...
Bullett, who recently performed a showcase for ASCAP and contributed to a CBGB retrospective in Manhattan's Radio and Television Museum, had her chambers loaded for variety this night and cleared off a bronchial annoyance from earlier in the day to open with clear, husky tones on a rocker called "Red Rover." Backed by bassist John Yates and drummer Harvey Sorgen, the Chichester-based singer-songwriter followed with a selection of deeply-etched ballads and infectiously backbeated tunes like "The Present Is Now" which had Yates pushing his casual bass groove up a few notches. Bullett's distinctive style benefits from bold and direct arrangements delivered with a blend of poise and fragility. Tilting off higher notes with cautious vulnerability or hunching bare shoulders behind the chords to clamp down a progression, Bullett took us through "climbing time" in "Rapunzel's Song" to a prancingly odd and funky jaunt through a diner in Covington, Kentucky "at four in the morning when you're feelin' fine and you ain't in a rush to wine and dine."
The reflective poetics of "On the Face Of It" offered some memorable lines about the surprising things in life that turn out to be a blessing in disguise "like a broken heart that opens wide/and shows you deeper things inside." But it was an encore number which truly floored the crowd; the first public performance of a song inspired by Barbara Walters' recent interview with Christopher Reeve from which Bullett extracted a glaring burst of strength and courage with a soaring synthesized backdrop. A breath-grasping moment.
Whitfield's acclaimed Sunday night Woman In Music series, inaugurated last March, winds down to a finale on December 17th. Next week features the singing and extraordinary guitar of Beki Brindle, heading in again from Indianapolis to reassure us she won't become a stranger in her old home town.