Margo Rey: Rey of Light

Rey of Light

Jazz singer Margo Rey, wife of comedian Ron White, cuts loose in her Pearl at Commerce gig.

published Sunday, March 25, 2012

In my mind, Margo Rey is a sultry jazz singer who leans on pianos and croons lyrics that break men’s hearts. That’s indeed the side of Rey showcased on her CD My Hearts Desire that plays near continuously in the background at her sister’s Dallas restaurant Café Lago, romantic songs like “You Belong to Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and Margo’s own compositions. The Acapulco-born Rey was raised in North Texas.

So what a surprise it was to experience the more full-throated, all-out R&B side of Rey at her Saturday show at Pearl at Commerce. Done live, “You Belong to Me” was made far more interesting ramped up to a Latin beat with guest percussionist Len Barnett. Rey embodies the stage energy of Pat Benatar fused with the vocal panache of Sarah Vaughan and underlain with the rootsy passion of Janis Joplin. A feisty vision in black sequin stovepipe pants, black bustier and hot pink scarf, she launched into a set whose energy did not abate until the very last song.

In too many bands fronted by dynamic female singers, the band is reduced to the role of over-amped accompanist. But Rey sits solidly in the pocket of her band, all top players from Los Angeles. Bryan Brock imparts a full drum sound that flows rather than beats, exhibiting a deep fluid power. Bassist Shirley To, who steps in on backup vocals, plays a light but effective style that energizes R&B without getting all slap-happy about it. The rock sensibility comes from the dual guitarists Steve Gregory, who lays down the lead lines, and Andrew Synowiec, who creates amazing textural soundscapes. No wonder the band is a regular act at B.B. King’s Blues Club at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

The emotional highpoint of the show was “Let the Rain,” a Rey song about embracing the joys and adversities of life. During a flight to Paris, comedian Ron White proposed, she accepted and then the plane went into a 10,000-foot turbulence drop. Afterward, lyrics for the song just flowed from Rey and back in the States she finished it out with John Oates. “Let the Rain” was deemed a “Hot Shot Debut” by Billboard last fall and charted for 20 weeks. It’s the first release from Rey’s next album that will feature additional songs by Rey and Oates. It’s to be produced for Organica Records with Michael Blakey—three record labels and 63 gold and platinum records to his credit—and Elton Ahi.

But the musical peak of the evening was a series of reworked ’60s hits, perhaps hearkening back to Rey’s days in North Texas with the all-girl rock band Debutante. The band absolutely enthused The Zombies’ “She’s Not There.” Rey turned it upside down, switching out the sardonic cool for intense hot, and embodying a total devotion to the song. The packed crowd of mostly folks in their 50s and 60s went wild hearing it, forging a moment never to be repeated again when the song interpretation and audience interaction are in focused passion. Equally unexpected and mesmerizing was her interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s poetic, surreal lyrics in “Little Wing,” with dual guitars sending the music stratospheric.

The packed crowd responded in a big way, sometimes too big. The perks of having 6-foot, 4-inch Ron White holding down the front row of seats as your biggest fan is that he makes a dang fine bouncer, swiftly defusing a boisterous couple who were distracting from his enjoyment of the show. Understandable. His mother-in-law, along with and sister-in-law and niece and various long-time pals, were also up front dancing. The fusion of family, friends and music after four of his own sold-out shows was a perfection to be preserved.