New York Times Review: “Stacy Sullivan Performs an Act of Remembrance” By STEPHEN HOLDEN, JULY 15, 2016
Who remembers David Ackles, the American singer-songwriter whose promising career was upended by a premature flood of hype when one well-meaning critic compared his 1972 album, “American Gothic,” to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”? The backlash was immediate and devastating. Mr. Ackles’s career lost its momentum.
In a thrilling performance on Thursday evening, the singer Stacy Sullivan, who knew Mr. Ackles and had worked with him, revisited his music. (He died in 1999.) Ms. Sullivan’s show at the Metropolitan Room, “A Night at the Troubadour: Presenting Elton John and David Ackles,” is drenched in a mood of sad remembrance.
Specifically, it looks back to Mr. John’s sensational American debut on a double bill with Mr. Ackles in 1970, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Bernie Taupin, Mr. John’s longtime lyricist, was a passionate admirer of Mr. Ackles’s and went on to produce “American Gothic.”
Among the many gifted, half-forgotten singer-songwriters from the period who merit rediscovery, none are more deserving than Mr. Ackles, whose complicated story-songs are realistic, often bleak but compassionate tableaus of life in the American heartland.
Characterized as folk for lack of a better term, Mr. Ackles’s piano-based music is quite formal. Influences of Brecht-Weill and the British music hall coincide with strong melodies in an American vernacular that aspire toward art song. He also wrote a musical, “Sister Aimee,” that Ms. Sullivan appeared in when it was produced in Los Angeles in 1995.
For Ms. Sullivan, whose past shows include tributes to Peggy Lee and Marian McPartland, “A Night at the Troubadour” is a brave leap into the unknown and an acting tour de force in which she slips in and out of the minds of desperate rural characters struggling to survive. Where appropriate, she forsakes folk-balladry for rock declamation to convey intense emotions. The arrangements by her brilliant pianist, Yasuhiko Fukuoka, found a seamless blend of folk, classical, blues and vaudeville styles.
The show, exquisitely directed by Mark Nadler, interweaves more than a dozen Ackles songs with several of Mr. John’s hits, radically deconstructed, into a dual portrait in which their opposite sensibilities (Mr. John’s gregarious showmanship, and Mr. Ackles’s dignified introspection) eventually merge.