Meah Pace Brings Her Classic High-Voltage Soul Sounds to Lincoln Center

by delarue

Meah Pace is one of the leading lights of the New York soul underground Although the charismatic singer has performed at Lincoln Center in the past, her show there at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. on May 30 at 7:30 PM  will be her debut there as a bandleader.

Onstage, Pace is a force of nature. She twirls, pounces, spins and stalks across the stage with the energy of a professional athlete – which she is, as the former leader of a NFL cheerleading squad. Vocally, she.s very eclectic: in quieter moments, she has the sweetness of a golden-age singer like Bettye Swann, as well as the grit of Tina Turner and the relentless power of Sharon Jones, an artist Pace once opened for at the Apollo

Her group for the show includes many bandmates from her debut album, titled 11:03 (streaming at Spotify) .She’ll have jazz keyboardist Randy Ingram along with brilliant baritone saxophonist “Moist” Paula Henderson and bassist Dan Fabricatore, plus trombonist John Speck, tenor saxophonist Jeremy Udden, former Sharon Jones drummer Eric Kalb and noir connoisseur Al Street on guitar.

The songs on the record reveal how much ground Pace can cover, from the simmering, latin-tinged strut of Promised Land, to the title track, a steamy Friday summer night scenario with a trick ending. That’s where the Tina Turner comparison echoes most clearly.

On My Brain has a steady, suspenseful beat flavored with Ingram’s simmering. nocturnal organ and reverb-toned Rhodes, “Would it be too hard to forget about the man I loved too hard?” Pace asks poetically. Yet, she admits that “I get up early and go to bed late so that I can sit for hours with him on my brain.”Meanwhile ingram teases uneasy, carnivalesque flourishes from the keys.

“I come, you call, I trip, you fall,” Pace explains as the funky Memphis groove of I Don’t Need Ya gets underway. It’s a serious reality check aimed at a manipulative dude with an overinflated ego.

Gracefully has a slow Aretha-style gospel sway: it’s a showcase for Pace’s gentle, sweetly nuanced side, a message of encouragement and hope for a brokenhearted friend. The title cut has a chugging, vintage Ike and Tina  pulse. Pace paints a vivid picture of a long overdue end-of-the-week scenario, the main character with her “Long red fingernails, legs like solid gold,” sitting at a six o’clock table, “Feeling enabled for a Friday night.”  The story’s ending hits you so fast that you may not see it coming.

Although Pace writes her own songs, she’s been known to break out a cover or two. One of the best is a harrowing reinvention of the old Alice Cooper ballad Only Women Bleed. Pace sang that with a brooding, knowing intensity at a Long Island City show (very enthusiastically reviewed here), an empahetic empowerment anthem for any woman who might have been abused. Those are just a few of the flavors Pace is likely to deliver this Thursday night.