Dianne Cripps revisits Southern Comfort: ‘Mama always told me to sing with joy’

Back in February I interviewed Dianne Cripps about Southern Comfort, the show she was presenting at Foundry 616. Unfortunately, I missed the performance and then COVID-19 hit and there were no more performances until now. On the night of Thursday 3 December night, I finally had a chance to see the Virginia-born singer strut her stuff. In a program of jazz, blues, a touch of hillbilly bluegrass and a dash of gospel, Dianne shared some of her experiences growing up in the South, regaling the audience with stories and explaining why particular songs were special to her. She trained as an opera singer, but now sings jazz, pop, blues, gospel – whatever makes her happy. She told us that from the earliest age her mother advised her “to always sing with joy.”

Dianne Cripps

And that’s what she does. There’s joy there, from ‘Get Your Kicks on Route 66’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’ to like ‘The In Crowd’ and ‘Painted Sky. Dianne is a warm and welcoming host, bringing us all into her world. It’s the way she was raised, she says, all part of that that legendary Southern hospitality. She’s always in control of her voice, with soulful bluesy vocals in ‘Grandma’s Hands’ and fabulous scatting in ‘Frim Fram Sauce’. Her original song ‘Soudade’ is named for the Portuguese word that refers to the bittersweet feelings of nostalgia, loss or yearning that are said to characteristic of the Portuguese psyche. It’s a wistful melody with beautiful lyrics to match.

The musicians behind her are all highly regarded performers. Elsen Price on double bass is a long-time collaborator with Dianne and their easy rapport is obvious. Elsen is one of the finest bass players around, bringing a rich resonance to everything he plays. As he bowed his opening solo for ‘Roxanne’, you could almost see the streets along which the lady of the night plied her trade. When Dianne began singing and it was just the two of them, there was magic in the air. Ed Rodrigues has a golden touch on drums. His sensitivity, dynamism and musicality never fail to astonish me, from the gentle mallet and cymbal work in ‘Skylark’ to his lovely crescendos in the climax to ‘Old Man’. Nick Southcott on piano and keys has a truly deft melodic touch, playing with great finesse and empathy. From ‘Frim Fram Sauce’ to ‘Painted Sky’, Nick demonstrated why he’s such an in-demand pianist. 

The highlight of the night for me was a song about war. The American Civil War was fought in and around Dianne’s home state and she told us of hymns that that mourned the brothers fighting against brothers on the blood-soaked battlefield. Dianne adapted one of these hymns, giving it new words – she focused on lovers separated by the Mason Dixon Line. ‘How Deep My Darlings Love for Me’ is a moving song, sung beautifully and with the emotion there for all to see. Elsen opened the piece, bowing the elegiac melody to mournful effect; Ed thrummed a little military tattoo to evoke the spirit of the dead lover/soldier; while Nick  channelled a church organ. It was a most effective and expressive arrangement. 

All in all, with its pleasing mix of styles and music from various eras, this was a most enjoyable evening of stories and songs presented by someone who’s both a gifted raconteur and a fine versatile singer.