Marsha Ambrosius could well be a great singer. The Liverpool-born R&B artist — and former member of the group Floetry — spent most of her Wednesday show at the Birchmere proving she’s a fabulous moaner.
Ambrosius can hit rarified frequencies with her voice, and occasionally showcased that ability. But for this set she tended to waste her gifts making hanky-panky noises and cooing dirty nothings. A typical Ambrosius tune was “With You,” a series of pants and shrieks off her recently released solo debut, which came off as a melding of Minnie Ripperton and Lisa Lampanelli. Another recent single, “Hope She Cheats on You (With a Basketball Player)” didn’t live up to the great title (sample lyric: “Sex so good, do you remember?/Oh baby!”).
To be fair, there are plenty of male R&B singers who coo onstage – Eric Benet, for example. Like the male wizards of aaaahs, Ambrosius pants and panders to a largely female audience. Ambrosius allowed no dead air. She filled the space between every line of lyrics with an “Oh, baby!” or a “No! No! No!” or a “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
A lot of folks in the tightly packed house giggled as Ambrosius writhed, which isn’t the reaction most R&B crooners go for, but is an indication her torchy diva act needs some tinkering. The breathy breathlessness got tiresome. The energetic highlight by far came when Ambrosius allowed her D.J. to take over the stage, and he scratched and spun old records fans could sing along with and dance to, including Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go” and some beats from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
The pre-recorded segment led into a live performance of “Butterflies,” a tune Ambrosius wrote and Jackson recorded for his 2001 swan song, “Invincible,” which was easily the night’s most successful combination of come-ons and melody. Less endearing was a medely that included Jamie Foxx’s “Freak’in’ Me” and Floetry’s “Say Yes,” which she took under the covers to squeal “You made me feel so, so, so, so…”