Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sexy Sadie

Elizabeth McGovern emerged in the early eighties as a breakout movie star as a result of her roles in Ordinary People and Ragtime, and her greatest work in the movies appeared to be ahead of her.  She spent the rest of the eighties making movies little noted nor long remembered, suggesting that she'd already peaked. (Anyone remember Lovesick?  Anyone?)  But not only did she regain stardom with her role as Cora, Countess of Grantham in "Downton Abbey," she's also developed a musical career, leading her own band on acoustic guitar and singing and writing her own songs.
In their 1991 book "The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time," Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell insistently wrote, "Rock stars are not actors; actors are not rock stars."  I agreed with that statement until I watched a performance of McGovern's folk-rock band Sadie and the Hotheads on American public television.  (Elizabeth is Sadie.)  McGovern formed the group in 2008, several years after marrying British filmmaker Simon Curtis and moving to London, and the lineup includes two brothers involved in the British folk scene, Steve and Simon Nelson, plus the steady bass of Ron Knights and the sharp drums of Teri Bryant. (Keyboardist Nick Lacey and backing vocalist Danica Chapman round out the group.)  Sadie and the Hotheads perform McGovern's original songs and a few covers in a style that can't quite be explained . . .but I'll try to explain it.
The music is a quirky blend of folk-based rock and Dixieland-style jazz with a bit of English music-hall goofiness.  The band plays with precision but makes room for McGovern's irreverent singing and her flapper-girl posturing.  It's a persona that works; she writes songs that make fun of her own fame as a movie actress, looking back wistfully at her career, and offers up simple vignettes of home, family, and a whole lot more with a McCartneyesque whimsy.  She and her band even do a low-keyed, sprightly version of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" that may be the most satisfying Bee Gees cover since Al Green's remake of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," or at least James Carr's cover of "To Love Somebody."           
Among the things I noticed when I caught a Sadie and the Hotheads show on TV was how bubbly and engaging Elizabeth McGovern is as a musical performer, even more so as an actress.  Good grief, she's 54 years old as of this writing, and she's still . . . cute!  And I say that as a compliment, I might add.  She certainly engaged the audience in the Hartford, Connecticut theater in which it was filmed, though it wasn't lost on me that the audience members appeared to be older than she is.  So, no, Liz is not going to revive folk-rock, but she does add some levity and sensibility to an admittedly depressing music scene.     
And the woman still knows how to sport a sleeveless top. :-D 
McGovern, by the way, was once engaged to Sean Penn in the mid-eighties, but he went on to marry another performer, a single-named entertainer who fancied herself as a singer and an actress and, despite her obvious lack of talent in both endeavors, somehow went on to be a much bigger star than Elizabeth McGovern.  And this, ahem, other entertainer, who begins a show tour in the U.S. later this year, thinks she's hot stuff because of that.  To that other entertainer,  I have this to say:  However big you think you are, you'll get yours yet.
And how did Elizabeth McGovern know the world was waiting just for her? :-)   

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