When you’re a singer/songwriter armed with little more than a guitar and your talent, you have to find ways to stand out from the crowd. That’s why the pairing of Robby Hecht and Natalia Zukerman last Friday at the Bluebird Café made for a fascinating study of contrasts that even Hecht couldn’t help but point out as they swapped songs — his major-chord folk songs up against her jazzy, bluesy tunes. Though their individual styles differ, their mutual admiration shows and their respective talents shine.
Zukerman started the set with “Shutter Sounds,” letting the crowd know they were in for a good night. Hecht countered with the simple and lovely “Pot of Gold,” during which he referenced ‘Rayna James’ rather than ‘Old Hank’ to see if the Bluebird’s audience was really listening. It was a brilliantly sly move that only a few folks caught. Introducing “Jane Avril,” Zukerman talked about being in a song club that requires her to submit a completed song each week based on a pre-determined prompt. One week, the theme was “feather boa.” A bit of time on Google — coupled with her art background — led her from Toulouse-Lautrec to the song’s titular character who, it just so happened, popularized the can-can. The tune is quintessential Zukerman with a floaty, Latin Jazz-tinged melody backing the story of a French dancer and it all but dares listeners to put a label on the songwriter’s style. Hecht countered with “Stars,” from his latest record. His strength lies in crafting melodies and messages that tug at and linger in your heart, long after they are gone. Zukerman added some lap steel to the piece to really bring out the lonesome.
Getting into some funkier blues, Zukerman busted out her slide for the sassy “Gas Station Roses,” a tune she dreams of hearing done up by Bonnie Raitt some day. And, to keep with a Valentine’s theme, Hecht offered the newly released “Two People” and included a whistle-along interlude rather than a guitar solo because that’s just the kind of guy he is. A couple more rounds followed, including Zukerman’s “Hero” and “The Great Forgetting” mixed with Hecht’s “The Light Is Gone” and “New York City,” the former having also been recorded by Zukerman on her new record.
Songwriter rounds — even in Nashville — can be either delightful or torturous experiences for music lovers. Thankfully, this night landed on the right side of that delineation.