Shaina Taub. Shaina Taub. Shaina Taub.
Mark the name.
When radaring in on any new excitement gathering, there’s such a thing as being ahead of the curve. Maybe this writer isn’t that far ahead but surely somewhat ahead, which prompts me to say now—with only slight trepidation—that I have seen the near future of the Great American Songbook, and her name is Shaina Taub.
A couple years ago in a new songwriters roundup, I heard Taub sing a few of her songs (like the propulsive, anxious “When”) and thought they were piercingly strong. So I made a point of remembering the name and knew I ought to be there when she was announced to contribute a score and perform in the 2016 Public Works adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for the Public Theater’s Labor Day weekend event.
I was, and when she was announced as following up with the 2017 Labor Day weekend event—Shakespeare’s As You Like It—I knew I’d better be there again. Smart move, because with Taub’s songs and with her as—get this!—Jacques, it was an event that had the effect of a July 4 fireworks display.
Nevertheless, I’ve been delinquent in my Taub sightings. It’s only in the last few weeks that I realized she’s been playing a year of one-night-a-month gigs at Joe’s Pub and that the October stint was coming up. (Friday, November 17 and Tuesday, December 19 remain.)
Of course, I was ringside to get even a closer look at—and listen to—Taub. To begin with, she’s a small and awfully cute bundle of sometime quiet, sometime combustible energy, who started her set with a seven–person band fronted by Mike Brun, and with several guest singers, including hyperkinetic Jo Lampert, austerely beautiful Grace McLean and Jonathan Groff on a night off from his Mindhunter television series.
What you need to know about Taub is that she’s political as all get-out, which was certainly clear when she, Lampert and Kate Feather teamed up for “She Persisted,” the song (co-written with Feather) lifted from Mitch McConnell’s notorious silencing of Elizabeth Warren with “She was warned, she was given an explanation, nevertheless she persisted.” Taub did mention McConnell as a third lyricist.
Taub herself also persists. For instance, she performed her spin on Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty poem—the one being so cavalierly disregarded by the current D. C. administration. Later she stepped forward with accordion to sing “Where Are the Grown-Ups,” the inspiration for which needs no explanation in this political climate. Were there still Top 40 songs the entire country hears and knows, this one would be topping the charts.
Taub is profound on relationships. She provides ample evidence that she understands broken hearts. She begins “We Don’t Live There Anymore” bluntly with “The home phone’s been disconnected” and goes on unflinchingly from there.” (The ballad becomes a companion piece to the Willard Robison-Larry Conley “A Cottage for Sale.”) For the equally chilling “Your Old Guitar,” Taub coldly states, “I sold your old guitar/The one you gave me on my birthday.”
And into the bargain Taub plays piano and accordion—and maybe other instruments she didn’t work that night. It wouldn’t surprise me.
By the way, Taub, usually sporting a smile that can knock you off your feet, has a siren voice. It’s not that she chants like Circe luring Odysseus from his trip home—although she has some of that quality, too. It’s that when she’s singing the ripped-from-headlines numbers, she has the power of a police siren urgently speeding past.
She did become accompanist only to the glorious-voiced McLean for two songs from the As You Like It song bag—“Rosalind, Be Merry” and “When I’m Your Wife.” In the words, which build on the Bard’s, she demonstrates that like, heroine Rosalind, who never makes a questionable remark, she also can’t utter a phony syllable. Groff sang her melancholy “Given,” which insists, “Love is the one thing you can’t take/It has to be given.”
No one as more than promising as Taub is arrives full-blown. Influences are discernible. I’d be surprised if she denied she has no knowledge of Bob Dylan or Jacques Brel. For an example, she encores with “The Visitors,” which has sentiments like:
The visitors come knocking at my door
Paying me a nightly call
Sorrow shows up early
While worry paces up and down the hall
Maybe she’s never heard a Brel lyric, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Of what I am completely certain is that Taub will be hanging around all our doors for some welcome time to come. (“Visitors,” the CD, is available.) Another thing of which I’m certain is that savvy Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis has to be just waiting to produce Taub’s first original musical. At times like the ones we live in today and someone like Taub comes along, you have to be grateful.