Introducing “Don’t Look Back” at the Newton Theatre in Newton Thursday night, Cassidy Catanzaro, who performs under the name Cassidy, described it as the first single after “we got a big fat record deal that ruined our lives.”
The song was originally released in 2005, the band she was talking about was Antigone Rising (which she fronted from 1999 to 2008), and the deal was with Starbucks’ Hear Music label. That’s all in the past, though. now. The Sparta native, who now lives in Los Angeles, headlined the Sussex County theater in a show that was a combination of many things: a homecoming, a chance for her to showcase her new band The Music, and a package show titled “Jersey Girls Rock!” that also featured C.C. Coletti, and Eryn Shewell & the Whiskey Devils.
Impressive vocal strength was the theme of the night, as all three women are powerful, commanding belters.
Coletti, who has toured as a member of Meat Loaf’s band, specializes in straightahead, rowdy rock ‘n’ roll, while Shewell is more of a blues singer. Cassidy presented the most varied set, singing, at times, with roof-shaking power, but also, at times, using jazzy phrasing, or singing in a low-key but soulful, slightly raspy tone that recalled Sheryl Crow. There was also great range in the songs themselves; “Follow the Freedom” was an upbeat anthem, while “Trouble” veered into wrenching psychodrama.
Cassidy and The Music sometimes seemed like a duet act featuring her and her keyboardist, Brother Sal. She spent a lot of time between songs bantering with him, and his imaginative playing gave the music much of its flavor. Many of the songs didn’t even have a a guitar; Cassidy played the instrument on only a few songs, and though there was another guitarist in the band as well, he spent much of the evening offstage.
Similarly, Coletti’s arrangements derived much of their power from a key band member: guitarist Anthony Krizan, who backed her with a variety of brawny, bluesy riffs. (A veteran artist who has worked with everyone from the Spin Doctors to Lenny Kravitz, Krizan now owns his own studio, Sonic Boom, in Raritan).
No one player in the Whiskey Devils made as big an impact as Krizan or Brother Sal, but the band created a big, rich sound. Maybe a bit too big at times, actually, as the drums were mixed so loud they overwhelmed Shewell on some numbers.
There was no need for that, especially since — as her closing number, a stripped-down version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” proved — she can be captivating in a more basic instrumental format.