This archived article was written by: Scott Frederick
If there is one thing Ben Bailey is not afraid to do, it’s belting out his songs in front of a crowd. Bailey got the crowd ready for Nadine Zahr in the Jennifer Leavitt Student Center Jan. 29.
As soon as Zahr began the first song, everyone listened. Well … everyone listened in their own way. It didn’t stop them from texting, talking on the phone, or with the person next to them, but somehow they can do these things and still listen. Each song received a rousing applause that was well deserved.
She was born in Jersey of Lebanese descent and raised in New York City. She then attended college for a year in Washington DC before spending eight years in Los Angeles working on her singing career. She doesn’t like to conform to anyone’s schedule but her own. She describes herself with the words: “free spirit” and “stubborn.” She sang on Broadway as a child and thanks to her affluent family has traveled the world. These experiences give her songs depth and emotional power.
Growing up with rich, busy parents has its downside though. Her parents divorced when she was 7, so she was more or less raised by the people hired to take care of the house: nannies, cooks and maids. She attributes a lot of her success to these people saying [because of them] “I didn’t turn into a snob.” She was pleased to say she gets along well with her parents now, and they are supportive of her career.
In the song: Leader of the Band, Dan Fogelberg described the way his father played his instrument as “A thund’ring velvet hand.” Zahr sang with a thundering velvet voice. It’s too bad the sound system was not able to keep up with her. Whenever she sang loudly, the sound system introduced enough distortion to distract the most forgiving listener. Her voice and skillful use of dynamics, from a beautiful whisper falsetto to filling her lungs, opening her mouth and letting everything out demanded far better sound reinforcement.
During the quiet moments of the show, the sound system performed satisfactorily and we were treated to catchy melodies and a soulful vocal delivery. From the first song “Take Me Back Home,” it was obvious Zahr has skills.
“Price, Utah” she said after the first song, “the only place I’ve ever been where you have to step around dinosaur bones to get to the desk in the lobby of your hotel.”
During her second song, Sunset she wove into the lyrics of the chorus, “Nothing like Utah people” which brought cheers from the students.
Her next song Where I Never Was was beautiful. “You fell into my day like rain,” she sang … lovely.
With her beautiful voice it would be easy to overlook her skills on the guitar. Her long slender fingers slid gracefully on the fret board, and her strong supple strumming wrist gave her the ability to modulate chords in a way few guitarists do. It allowed her to play quietly but in such a way as to throw the sound out of her instrument. It worked when she played loudly as well.
While she tuned her guitar before I’m Gonna Die, she explained the songs origins. “Don’t move in with someone and sign a year lease after dating for only three months” she advised. “Because if things don’t work out, a year is a long time.” But being a songwriter/singer at least afforded her the opportunity to write songs about the experience and rehearse them loudly while her ex was at home. She moved away from the mic in the middle of the song and let her voice do a singing/ chanting/yelling/screaming thing that effectively communicated the way she felt during this difficult time of her life.
The only criticism of the show that comes to mind is, the audience comes to hear the music, we come to hear the songs. Sometimes telling us where you wrote a particular song takes us to that physical geographic location, instead of the emotional place you are really trying to take us too. Your stories were cute and humorous, just a bit to long. Let the music do the talking.
The last song of the set was the melodic rocker, A Little Better, a song close in feel and sound to any Melissa Etheridge hit. It’s a pop-radio friendly song that had the audience grooving. A song about the person you adore breaking up with you and shutting you out.
“If I only knew how to let go a little better,” she sang.
And the lovely painful ironic,
“What we say we say to hide all these words – these words make me want to cry, what can I say when I’ve lost you already.” she continued.
It was the perfect way to end the set. It had the students cheering and asking for more, and she obliged with one more song.
Zahr’s beauty and talent radiates because she is true to herself. She explained after the show: the only job worth doing is one that completely exposes you and forces you to use your natural talents to their full potential. For her, it’s the only honest medium she discovered. She plans to keep writing, performing solo gigs and doing gigs with her band. “Performing alone and performing with the band each have their virtues,” she says.
After her solo tour, she plans to record three or four of her best songs and shop them around until she finds a label. She said there is already some interest from Dar Williams’ label, Burning Field Music.
Let’s hope a label picks her up and she is able to make her second CD, and then tours her way back to CEU for another show in a larger venue.
This was an excellent show by a gifted artist. Hearing Zahr on the radio or seeing her on TV in the next year or so wouldn’t surprise me … she’s the real deal.
One other note, ASCEU did a wonderful job facilitating this show. The stage, the seating, the lighting and the refreshments added up to an ambience that was enjoyed by all. Kellie Pezcuh, Ashlie Baker and the others involved did a terrific job.