“For years I was on a TV show where I sang high all the time,” Dianna Agron tells the crowd at the Cafe Carlyle — referring to her years playing Quinn Fabray on Glee). “It was kind of my fault, since I spoke high in the audition because we were supposed to be teenagers.” But the Agron onstage at the Carlyle is a far cry from an eye-rolling, snark-spouting teen cheerleader. She glides to the stage in an elegant gown, sporting a plunging neckline and a dramatic cape and reveals herself to be more a creature of folk-country cool than teeny-bopper pop.
For this limited concert engagement, she’s chosen to sing material written by men with the intention of showing off the smoky, lower end of her range, which is smooth as single malt scotch. Adding further flavor to the evening is Gill Landry, whom Agron admits to having saved in her phone as “Gill the Wonderful Human. Landry’s musicianship is simply wonderful — his guitar lays a confident groundwork for every number, and he sings with the resonance of country music legends — notably on his cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues.”
It just so happens that Agron arrived at the Cafe Carlyle the same week that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War debuted on PBS. The documentary’s opening episode features Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and it made me wonder why it seemed such a long time since I’d heard a great cover of his Nobel-winning work. Agron took to the mic as if in answer, offering plenty of Dylan and declaring her lifelong love of him. “These songs were absolutely my childhood,” she explained, recalling listening to them as a child in the car with her father. “This is our songbook.”
Among the evening’s highlights were songs by other mid-to-late 20th century masters, as well. Agron sounded particularly great on “Bang Bang” — reminding the crowd that the song was penned by Sonny Bono even though it’s so heavily associated with Nancy Sinatra. And the evening turned into the very first Cafe Carlyle singalong I’ve witnessed as she invited the crowd to join her in a fabulous rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”
Agron noted that the evening’s selections did lean toward the romantic, and one could easily see Agron performing them alongside her husband, Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons fame — whom she lovingly mentioned several times (including the fact that she had long hoped he would write her a song until he pointed out that the kind of love songs he writes tend to be of the break-up variety). The evening’s wonderful take one Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was deeply infused with the spirit of “being still in love,” and both Agron and Landry had twinkles in their eyes while performing the funny and feisty “In Spite of Ourselves” that left both performers and audience feeling like they were “sittin’ on a rainbow.”
Several times over the course of the set, Agron sweetly mentioned being nervous — admitting that she would have liked more time to rehearse and that it was “amazing and wonderful and so scary” to perform at a venue she’d long held in high regard. But when she faltered momentarily (e.g. on some ambitious close harmony for Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”), I wanted to reassure her that I’d rather watch someone wobble walking a highwire than take an easy stroll on solid ground. Hopefully the gusto with which the audience joined Agron on a final sing-along of “Dream a Little Dream” was reassurance that the evening she described as “a bit of an experiment” had been a success for all in the room.
Last modified: May 15, 2018