Thelma Houston came out smoking at the Vine St. Bar & Grill Thursday night, fully prepared to give her audience plenty of love--whether it wanted it or not.
It's just as well that the overflow crowd was ready and able to receive, since Houston's high-powered outpouring of interactive energy was almost impossible to resist.
Although she won a Grammy award in 1977 as Best R&B Female Vocalist (for "Don't Leave Me This Way"), Houston has never really crested up to the mega-level of stardom. It's hard to understand why not.
Aside from the sheer electricity of her personality, she is a gifted satirist, a stunning gospel singer, and the most down-home, rubbery-jointed dancer since the salad performing days of James Brown.
Refusing to be confined in the somewhat close performing arena of the Vine St., Houston was incessantly in motion, reaching out, touching, pouring out genuine affection, and getting back as good as she gave.
She sang a medley of vocal put-ons that punctured the performing mannerisms of Sade, Millie Jackson and Whitney Houston.
Barely pausing for a breath, she launched into an achingly pure a cappella interpretation of Mahalia Jackson's "I'm Going Home to Live With God," then abruptly shifted gears again, with Dinah Washington-styled versions of "What a Difference a Day Makes" and "Unforgettable."
A somewhat less appealing group of songs from her first Jimmy Webb-produced album, "Sunshower," suggested that Houston's career may not have been particularly well-served by her choice of material.
But when the songs are right--as she tellingly demonstrated in a steamy version of "Don't Leave Me This Way"--Houston is as versatile as any singer in the business.
Appropriately, she closed her warmly communicative performance on a delicately personal note, with a soft and lovely "You and I."