- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Even within the confines of “Good Morning America’s” New York studio, Oleta Adams’ 1991 performance of her signature hit, “Get There” — the unofficial anthem of the Gulf War — left TV viewers in disbelief. Such magic, after all, couldn’t possibly be repeated live after her hauntingly beautiful rendition on wax.

Wrong. Her “GMA” version not only repeated, but actually surpassed the Grammy-nominated original.

It was that Oleta Adams who finally showed up midway through a 16-song set Friday evening at the Birchmere.

Not that it mattered to her legions of fans, who applauded wildly and often sang along (quietly, thank goodness) with the star during her two-hour concert. Miss Adams’ voice, when coupled with her poignant lyrics and lush, comforting timbre, was a force of nature that caressed the soul.

It makes you wonder why such a gifted vocalist had a sound man and backup trio (including her husband, John Cushon, on drums) cranking the volume full-throttle for half the performance.

The night began with a rather mundane offering of “Once in a Lifetime” (from her 1995 album “Moving On”), followed by a trio of covers: Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” and Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” The third, James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” truly showcased the diminutive diva’s talents — mainly because she accompanied herself on acoustic piano without the intrusion of her band.

Such intimacy, no doubt, is what made Miss Adams a household name on the Kansas City music scene long before Tears for Fears’ Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith helped volley her to stardom; initially on their “Seeds of Love” album in 1989 and then on her own hit LP, “Circle of Love,” the following year.

Sadly, she performed just two songs from the latter’s dazzling repertoire: the aforementioned Brenda Russell composition, “Get There,” and the album’s title track. Also MIA were most of the tunes from her equally brilliant follow-up, 1993’s “Evolution,” which was bypassed for “Captain of the Ship” (1997’s “Come Walk With Me”), “Many Rivers to Cross” (from a 1998 “best of” compilation) and “Power of Sacrifice” (from 2001’s “All For Love,” her most recent release). It was all subsequent material that, while good, never quite matched the artistic merits of its predecessors.

Maybe there were reasons. On her fourth trip to the Birchmere in as many years, Miss Adams may simply have chosen not to repeat herself. And why should she? With a vast collection of tunes and unparalleled chops that straddle soul, gospel and jazz, she’s still a draw even without massive radio play and an album on the charts.

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