Groovelily plays like they’re ready to conquer the world
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., May 2, 2002) – Talk about big things in small packages. Pop-rock trio Groovelily, fronted by the somewhat smallish Valerie Vigoda, packed an arena-size wallop in its first set at the intimate Club Helsinki on Thursday night. It’s a secret of showmanship from which others can learn – no matter the size of the venue or the size of the crowd, play to the rafters as if there’s 20,000 people in the house.

It helps when you have three incredibly talented musicians like violinist Vigoda, keyboardist Brendan Milburn, and drummer Gene Lewin, and a repertoire of radio-ready pop-rock and pop-soul tunes like those of Groovelily. And it doesn’t hurt that Vigoda has a voice made for any venue, ranging from a dimly-lit cabaret nightclub to a Broadway stage to some of the arenas where she has performed as a violinist and vocalist backing up such stars as Cher, Tina Turner and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

And it didn’t hurt that Milburn was a deft pianist, his nimble fingerwork doing double-duty as the band’s bassist and provider of its harmonic foundation, delivered with the jazzy sophistication of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and the rock and roll theatrics of Billy Joel.

Drummer Gene Lewin’s background in jazz was fully in evidence, his rhythms full of snap, crackle and pop, yet always in the service of the groove. What was left for Vigoda to do, besides bowl the audience over with her incredible range and dynamism and her theatrical flair – think Sarah McLachlan meets Barbra Streisand – was to fill in the spaces with her classically-trained chops on the six-string electric “Viper,” a V-shaped violin attached to her torso by a harness, freeing her to sing unencumbered, to give expression to the veritable diva within.

“Cup Overflow” was a jazzy, minor-key folk-pop number that showcased Vigoda’s range, dark and husky down low and bright and brassy up top. “Weight of the World,” about not taking oneself too seriously, was a soulful pop ballad that flaunted its lush chromaticism, complex melodicism and punchy rhythms, altogether a radio-ready hit for any radio station ready to play old-fashioned, emotional pop music.

Milburn took a few turns on lead vocals, giving voice to his Broadway musical inclinations on a number about an Irish immigrant to New York, in which Vigoda’s violin played the echo of the River Shannon in the immigrant’s conscience, begging him not to forget his homeland.

The trio played with a brash confidence belying its relative youth and inexperience. Their ballistic energy and commitment came as a refreshing relief from the all-too-common syndrome of performers who get out in front of themselves and their audiences too quickly, before they’re ready to overcome their doubts and insecurities.

The members of Groovelily played and sounded like they’re ready to do nothing less than conquer the world.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 4, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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