Recent-Grammy winner William Bell‘s ‘American Songbook’ series performance for Lincoln Center on Friday (2/24) was dubbed a “masterclass” from his friend and fellow musician Marc Cohn before the show was even over. Bell, at 77, earned his first Grammy nominations just this year for his album This is Where I Live, taking home the honor for Best Americana Album. The soul singer has been performing for nearly 60 years.
A couple of his early hits, “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and “Private Number” (both of which he performed on Friday) are still among his most popular. But new songs sounded just as powerful, including the lead single “The Three of Me” and “Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge.” Introducing the latter, Bell reminisced about working at a bar in his early teens (when he wasn’t supposed to be there) and how the experience was faithful to the rowdy Blues Brothers bar scene.
Toward the end, with Cohn still lending his vocals, Bell introduced “Born Under a Bad Sign” — a song he wrote for Albert King but later covered by many others, including Homer Simpson (on The Simpsons Sing the Blues which Bell noted sold over 3 million times). The song turned into an extended jam allowing each instrumentalist a moment to solo. When Cohn took a turn, he inserted a bit of humorous commentary; Cohn was sharing microphones with the backing vocalists and his was particularly low — so he sang “never been down this low” while crouching (and then raised his microphone). It was, in turn, one of the night’s many highs.