TVD Live: Morgan James and Boh Doran at the Hamilton, 11/17

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | It’s not easy out there for female singer/ songwriters.

Take the duo who played the Hamilton in DC Tuesday night. Headliner Morgan James is a belter who has conquered several fields, from covers, to Broadway to Nina Simone to her own well honed R&B, but still making her way, despite a dynamic presence and often astonishing vocal range.

Opener Boh Doran is having it a little tougher, keeping track of her two keyboards and a backing track via iPad while trying to sing her songs solo and having to lug her own equipment when her half hour was done.

A Minnesotan who studied politics at George Washington a few years back, the former MaryEllen Doran was having a bit of a homecoming in the D.C. show. And while she presents herself as a fully formed interesting chanteuse in her sultry five-song EP and especially the track “White Knuckles,” which this site premiered in June, she had too much to keep track of in a solo show where she ultimately had to serve as her own roadie.

James, taking the stage with a strong four-piece band, sympathized, noting the courage it took for Doran to go out on the road by herself. But she had her own challenge: After getting some attention as an interpreter of songs through Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and especially “All About that Bass” and forging a path on Broadway in things like The Addams Family, Wonderland, Godspell, and cast as Teena Marie in Motown: The Musical (and who can sing like Teena Marie?), her first album was a live salute to Nina Simone.

“Because you look at me and think: Nina Simone, right?” the lithe blonde joked on stage.

But she nailed it to the degree that she’s become fearless—and dependable YouTube, where her greatest feat might have been covering D’Angelo’s soul epic “Black Messiah” in its entirety a few weeks after its release.

So if her album of original material, Hunter, hasn’t gotten the attention it’s deserved, it might be because of all of her other highlights. Nevertheless, she stuck to its tracks almost exclusively in the show, which was fine with the fans who showed up, appreciating every turn. “Hoo yeah,” yelled one at the opening notes of “You Never Lied.” “I’ve got the whole CD in the car!” he added, by way of explaining.

With a voice (and cheekbones) that recall Mariah Carey, James eventually covered her “Fantasy” quite effortlessly. More importantly, though, she’s used that voice to created a strong set of simple, effective R&B with her guitarist Doug Wamble that were the strong parts of her set, particularly on things like “Call My Name,” “Fed Up on You,” and “Heart Shake.”

Still, she’s created a whole audience for her well-chosen covers, and accommodated them with Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” in the encore, to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” to the kinds of things few singers even attempt, from the Mariah to Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You” and nailed them.

And as a reward at the end, she didn’t have to pack up her own equipment.



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