IN TUNE: Impish and earnest as ever, Richard Barone treated an appreciative living room audience to selections from his new CD, “Glow,” due out next month, along with freshened Bongos staples and solo favorites, as well as some warmly surprising covers.
Barone’s latest “bullrush with greatness” had him recording two albums worth of material with 70s glam producing legend Tony Visconti (Bowie, T. Rex). More than 30 masters were completed in North Carolina last week and delivered to an as-yet unnamed record label (The only hint Richard would offer is that it rhymes with his name).
Few artists have trafficked among such a diverse crop of musical elite as the former Bongo frontman — from Bowie, Moby and Liza (yes, that one) to the B-52s’ Fred Schneider, Marshall Crenshaw and Jill Sobule. He’s also directed and performed in “The Downtown Messiah” a modern interpretation of Handel’s baroque oratorio, which he said Saturday night he hopes “Rent” director Michael Grief will be able to revive this winter, possibly at City Winery.
Oh, and his latest BFF is none other than Lou Reed (“a sort of background influence”).
Among the most exquisite of Richard’s cover tunes at Chris Kunstadter’s comfortable Montclair home Saturday night was Reed’s “Satellite of Love,” a song that epitomizes Richard’s affinity for the kinds of 70s tunes recorded by, among others, T. Rex and Roxy Music.
After a brief intermission, Barone returned with an easy-flowing version of Harry Nilsson’s “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City,“ granting a request from a music lover who first met Richard at Maxwell’s in Hoboken in 1980 (OK, it was me).
Never one to pass on the schmaltz, he broke out Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” — and, after initial giggles of recognition, you could hear the murmur of voices singing along.
In a room of what essentially were long-time fans, Barone caressed the enchanting “Clouds Over Eden,” and followed with “I Belong to Me,” from his debut album, “Cool Blue Halo.” Which of those first two albums is his best is open to debate, although Barone said he considers “Glow” his new favorite. Its songs are rich in poetry yet can be playful, particularly a song he co-penned with Sobule called “Odd Girl Out.”
And speaking of playful: A friend — and devout fan — kept calling out for “I Fell For Myself,” which Richard kept deflecting. He finally relented, though, leaving dozens of admirers laughing out loud and applauding wildly.
Dressed all in black, including a tie and low-top Keds, Richard pounded a 1953 Gibson acoustic guitar he said he got from his mom, in what he said would be its last performance before retirement. When he flubbed a note, he didn’t get flustered — he simply explained, as if in a musical lecture, what made a particular chord change so tricky.
Richard opened with the Bongos’ “Tiger Nights,” slipped in the Bow-Wow-Wow-influenced “Barbarella,” with its Bo Diddley beat, and made sure to include “Zebra Club,“ a song he wrote about an 80s-era Passaic New Wave club called Hitsville.
The between-song stories were sweet and earnestly Richard. And after a loving take on the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” which he closed with a pitch-perfect yodel, Richard sent the long-timers home happy, first with another glimpse of “Glow” — in a bittersweet tune called “Yet Another Midnight” — and then with a gently flowing version of the Bongos’ “Numbers With Wings.”
How the Tampa-born entertainer who was as responsible as anyone for putting Hoboken on the rock-and-roll map has managed to stay so young — and young at heart — is a joy to behold.
But it’s even finer to see him moving into a new phase of his career, one that just might bring him the kind of mass recognition so many of those better-known artists who call him their friend have enjoyed for so long.