Francesca Beghe is a long, long way removed from her late 1980’s-early 1990’s commercial height. The hit songwriter and vocalist didn’t reach Mariah Carey or comparable icon status during that era, but she wasn’t in this for the Fame Game. She placed a hit song on the gazillion selling soundtrack for the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston blockbuster The Bodyguard, toured with the era’s pre-eminent acts, and performed on The Tonight Show when that was a far bigger deal than it is today.
She’s kept moving, however, growing. Recent years have found Beghe reinvigorated by working with a full band once again and her new fourteen-track release Francesca Beghe Live documents her first outings working with a band in over two decades. These live performances are covers and originals alike and leading off with a relatively obscure Van Morrison tune is a bold move. “Enlightenment” is one of Van Morrison’s soul-searchers and introduces newcomers to her take on covers. She approximates much of the original’s spirit without ever aping it; Beghe’s take on the song is full of variation, both musical and vocal.
“Angel Choir” is one of the album’s more ethereal moments. She doesn’t go full-fledged with this, however, but the crystalline heights she reaches with her voice put this performance in a near-otherworldly realm. The musical backing plays a secondary role to her voice, providing it with plenty of room to weave magic, but it’s an integral part of what makes the song go. “Send Down the Sunshine” invokes the blues again, Beghe isn’t shy about exploring that side of her music, but it’s far more stylized than purist. Her vocal during this song has to rate among the album’s best – it’s a real stunner.
“Requiem” relies a great deal on dramatic, almost theatrical, qualities. The music and vocal are strong, never perfunctory, but some listeners may have misgivings about how the song unfolds in such a deliberate way. Live performance does redeem much of this though, even for the most exacting of listeners. Beghe’s one of those singers who could belt out her grocery list and get you to listen. “Listening Wind” is revelatory. She recasts the art rock/new wave trappings of the Talking Heads’ classic into her own musical voice without ever visiting an injustice on the song. Her approach, instead, emphasizes its fragmentary yet deeply poetic beauty.
Her performance of an older original “Trust In Me”, covered with success by the late Joe Cocker, reminds us what it is about her work that attracts such illustrious peers. It’s a rollicking pop ride without ever embracing the lowest common denominator tripe you might hear from lesser practitioners. “People Have the Power” is a GREAT closer, a cover of Patti Smith’s anthem from her Dream of Life album, and Beghe does an outstanding job delivering it with every ounce of the brio it requires. It’s a rousing exclamation point on this album, and it’ll stick in your mind for a long time without ever overstaying its welcome.