Mary Fahl at the Southgate House Revival in Newport: Mary Fahl had not performed in the Cincinnati region in more than two decades, not since a 1995 concert by the wonderfully unclassifiable October Project. In those days, the powerfully sonorous clarity of her singing fronted an equally huge pop sound that gathered elements of prog, folk and even a touch of world beat.
Last weekend, Fahl returned not as the Goth-like figurehead of the former band she described as “Peter Gabriel meets Indigo Girls drowning in a sea of Enya.” Onstage this go-round was a solo artist as chatty, vibrant and revealing as October Project was insular and stubbornly withdrawn. But that voice — that extraordinary, almost operatic voice — had not lost an iota of its emotive impact, deep-seeded mystery or tonal clarity. Fahl might have had nothing but her own guitar work and a discreet level of reverb in the sound mix as accompaniment, but that’s all she needed. Her extraordinary singing rightly took possession of the spotlight.
It wasn’t a forced singing style, either. When Fahl delved into a sleek cover of the Nina Simone hit Wild is the Wild, she held onto the phrase “clings to a tree” with delicious and undeterred confidence. Similarly, on October Project’s most identifiable hit, Bury My Lovely, she bent notes during the chorus in a manner that sounded like a variation of yodeling. The final delivery, though, was all textural cool.
Fahl was hardly held in place by the October Project material. Along with the Simone gem, she visited the affirmative pop-folk of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now (but in a lyrical fashion that better recalled Judy Collins’ hit version), the lullaby-like fragility of the Edith Piaf-popularized La Vie en Rose, and in the show’s most inventive turn, a folk-fortified makeover medley of Brain Damage and Eclipse, the collective finale of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
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As satisfying as any of the covers, though, was the Fahl original Going Home, a Civil War-inspired requiem delivered during an extended encore as a sparse, comforting prayer of peace.