Students from the Elder Conservatorium of Music, the quintet’s talents are still developing. Any claim to deliver “the greatest soul and R&B hits of all time” is bound to fall short, especially for a set lasting under an hour, but they did offer a well-received sample of popular songs.

The opening was “Fever” (Cooley/Blackwell), a song made famous by Peggy Lee, and the audience responded appreciatively, as they did to “I Say a Little Prayer for You” (Bacharach/David), originally sung by Dionne Warwick. Arguably, neither exactly fitted the soul and blues styles.

Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” brought in brief backing vocals and a tasty guitar solo before the familiar strains of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, commonly associated with Aretha Franklin.

If it was clear that singer Grace Mensforth was not employing a wide vocal range; better was to come, however, with the much more recent “Best Part” (Daniel Caesar, 2017). This also showed a livelier side to the band. Beginning slowly, it stepped up in volume, drew in harmonies from the keyboard player and guitarist, and grew more forceful.

The Mensforth Quintet: Billy Beger, Stephen Dinning, Grace Mensforth, Hugh Whittle and Jack Spyker.

The song list looked back to 1962 and Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” with lifted tempo and energy. Mensforth seemed more at home here but less so when a not-so-funky version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” followed. It did include a well-measured bass run.

Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” got a spot, before Leon Russell’s delicate “A Song for You”. Mensforth did well with the latter, singing alone to  keyboard backing. 

There were rough edges to the bluesiest offering, “I’d Rather Go Blind”, first recorded by Etta James. Then it was closer to the present with a strong drum intro to Mark Ronson’s “Valerie” (The Zutons 2009), often connected with Amy Winehouse. Mensforth kept her best for the Nina Simone song “Feeling Good” (Newley/Bricusse). Fats Domino’s “Land of 1000 Dances” finished the set; an ironic touch given that COVID guidelines say we can’t.

This felt more of a dinner show than a concert. Its smooth, easy-listening approach, with the accent tilted to soul and a bit of R&B rather than pure blues, suited that idea and setting, and most of the audience.

Feeling Good: Songs of Soul & Blues is in the Courtyard at Treasury 1860 until March 6.

Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

 

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Increase your impact by having your donations doubled

When you commit to a regular weekly, fortnightly or monthly tax-deductible donation to InReview, each scheduled donation will be matched by Creative Partnerships Australia. That means you’re supporting twice as many InReview stories to be commissioned, edited and published.

Donate Here

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.