The Return of a Rock 'n' Roll Diva: Ellen Foley

'Twas a time when divas earned their title in the trenches. Imagine an era wherein American Idolatry, nor YouTube.Com viral videos and other substitutes for taking command of the stage with a loyal gang of road tested musicians to belt out an original song before a living breathing audience hadn't been thought of yet. Conjure an age that did not require certain female recording artists to "empower" themselves by wearing raw beef, nor inflating their body parts to grotesque comical proportions, nor dangling naked on a demolition device to garner attention.

On the flip side, recall a generation that didn't summarily tolerate abject junk culture as the norm and relegated such behavior to where it belonged: in a circus freak show that wouldn't faze Dylan's Mr. Jones. Seems like the days when art was more mainstream than artifice are long gone.

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is Ellen Foley...what's yours?"

To music fans of a certain era, these are welcome words from the stage of the Cutting Room in New York City. You know her voice from Meatloaf's signature anthem "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and by way of Todd Rundgren ("Hello It's Me," "I Saw the Light") and Joe Jackson ("Is She Really Going Out With Him?" "Sunday Papers," "Steppin' Out"), among many others. Perhaps you did not know that she was the inspiration for the Clash classic "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" composed by her then-boyfriend Mick Jones. And if you were hip just before MTV conquered the world for better or for worse (ah-hem), you likely owned Ellen's three albums produced by Mick Jones, Ian Hunter, and Mick Ronson: all brilliant works which never quite caught commercial fire despite their universal praise. Rock 'n' roll's loss was Hollywood and Broadway's gain as Ellen has enjoyed a successful career as an actress. Check her lengthy IMDB credits for further details.

Ms. Foley is back on the battlefield with her first album in thirty years - a kick-ass roots rock affair aptly entitled About Time. Be warned: Ellen's new record and road band are not designed replicate the past. Gone are the larger-than life wall-of-sound arrangements bestowed by her former mentors Hunter/Ronson and Jim Steinman. Foley, who is still lean and mean (on stage that is, she is a charmer in real life) has adopted a take-no-prisoners stance for her long overdue rock 'n' roll resurrection. Her current group is stripped to the bone akin to the fiery ensembles of her era - think Graham Parker's Rumour, the Patti Smith Group, and Elvis Costello's Attractions to name a few.

The bulk of Foley's set list at her VIP / SRO record release bash consisted of material from About Time - all of which fuse killer guitar riffs to contagious melodies. Ellen's new repertoire - mostly composed by her collaborator/guitarist Paul Foglino - offers pearls of wisdom to all who are willing to listen. Ellen's opening song on record and in concert is "If You Can't Be Good" which brazenly advises "if you can't be good, be careful / if you can't be careful, be tough / if you can't be tough, be lucky." As a nod to her illustrious past, Ellen and the band knocked out a raucous version of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" along with an equally riotous up-date of her FM radio re-make of Jagger/Richards'' "Stupid Girl" - the latter as a duet with legendary vocalist Ula Hedwig serving as the femme fatale foil. Steinman, whom Ellen cites as an important player in her career, was afforded props by way of Ms. Foley's bravura reading of "Heaven Can Wait."

The Stones were summoned a second time with Ellen's bluesy version of "Sway" - adding sex appeal aplenty to a rather obscure gem from Sticky Fingers. Another of Ellen's heroes, Randy Newman, received his reverential due with Ellen's stark delivery of "Guilty" - possibly the best interpretation of that song ever.

The good news is Foley intends to maintain a recording and touring schedule. She concurs that many in her rock 'n' roll peer group are hitting their stride on stage and in the studio - regardless of age or the mess that is the business of recorded music in the present tense.

"Let's knock wood that I'll be around for another thirty years!"