This world, you may have noticed, isn't getting any easier to live in. The social fabric is unraveling like a cheap sweater. Our leaders are showing feet of clay that go all the way up to their necks. And every summer brings new evidence that the very elements themselves are stacked against us. Why, it's enough to make a grown man or woman cry out for mama.
Relax, bubbelah. She's here.
Amy Steinberg the self-described "Renaissance chick" who far more people would describe as Orlando's aesthetic earth mother blows back onto the radar this month with a semiperfect storm of activity. She has a new CD, Must Be the Moon (with an attendant record-release party at Will's), and The Parliament House is hosting an encore of her most recent one-woman performance piece, Oh My God, Don't Stop. It's all good news indeed to fans who don't just consider Steinberg a talented singer/songwriter/actress, but a paragon of wise caring whose artistic endeavors connote the empowering comfort of home and family.
"These are the times when we really need to embrace art in a joyful way," says Steinberg, a former music teacher with an ingrained nurturing instinct. "It's really sad what's going on in our country right now, and I really think that this president might make it bad enough for us" she chuckles "that we shift back into caring about each other and caring about living, and having some sort of passion for life."
The new disc, Steinberg's first since 2001, captures beautifully the living-room rapture of her live shows. Recording at home with producer/collaborator Justin Beckler, she's assembled a deceptively lush instrumental foundation on which to stand as she delivers the self-help sermons she seems to emanate as easily as breathing. "Confidence is your best defense/ when the devil wanna act like he's your friend" runs one particularly encouraging refrain nestled among Beckler's rustic guitar and the faux-gospel cooing of the background vocals. (They're all Amy, by the way at least the feminine-sounding ones.)
The motivational sugar can get pretty thick, but it's saved from triteness by Steinberg's almost supernaturally authoritative performance. Wrapping her honeyed voice around her self-written syllables, she sounds like an Alanis with infinitely superior note control. That professionalism is of paramount importance when she gets personal, as on the sinuous, indignant "Stare": "I'm so tired and I'm sick of feeling lonely/ like I'm the only one who feels so numb," she laments. Sometimes, even mama has to put down the mixing bowl and worry about herself.
For the record's catchiness and consistency, Steinberg credits Beckler's old-fashioned edict that they should treat every track like a potential single. "There were a few songs that I wanted to do that Justin said, 'NO. We're not doing those, because they're not hits,'" she remembers.
Sense and sensibility seem to be defining concepts in Steinberg's career these days. She's become a self-supporting artist by eschewing a regular backup band, conscripting outside musicians for special occasions but performing solo for "80 or 90 percent" of the dates she performs here and across the country.
"Of course you dream to be on the cover of Rolling Stone," she laughs, "but really what happens when you stick around long enough is you just want to pay your bills."
Steinberg has been canny as well in using her theatrical and spoken-word pursuits (she's a slam winner several times over) as insurance against the musical sector's changing tastes. It's a horizontal career trajectory that often becomes necessary to artists who have been plying their trade in this town the better part of a decade: Look at Michael Andrew, whose alliances with Mad Cow Theatre Company. and Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival have kept him in touch with an audience that may not place the value on clubgoing it once did.
Though Steinberg's crowd is younger and not in any imminent danger of eighty-sixing its bar budget, she says she and Andrew lead "very similar lives," down to the detail that their jetée-ing into theater is more a continuation of unfinished business. She majored in drama and once toured Europe in Hair, and her ultimate goal is to favor Broadway with her "Bette Midler meets Janis Joplin" style. She says she's talking to a New York producer about doing just that, but for now there is Oh My God, Don't Stop, a top seller at last May's Orlando International Fringe Festival that's returning for one night only at The Parliament House. The show's themes of God and sex are "not only appropriate for me, but appropriate for Florida, because we're such a repressed state," Steinberg feels. In the play, she performs 10 monologues distributed among five characters three Jews and two Christians, one of them the closeted-lesbian wife of a preacher man. She even appears as the Lord himself, albeit in the form of a lounge singer.
Steinberg's November sweep is an aggressive reintroduction to her hometown audience, but it shouldn't be read as any end to her wanderlust. Though she ruled out a relocation to Los Angeles a few years ago she "just didn't feel the same passion" for the place she leaves in February for a three-month trek across the U.S., continuing her latter-day concentration on building her out-of-state following. She has, she says, been a "touring machine" for close to half a decade. And that may be why the (intentionally annoying) question of when she's going to settle down and start a family bounces off her woman-warrior armor.
"Maybe in a couple years," she responds. "Maybe at 35 I'll settle down and meet some nice Jewish boy or something. But right now, I'm so uninterested. I have a nephew and he blows my mind every day. I'm single, and I love it. I'm not interested in any of the drama."
Any self-respecting Steinberg disciple with a smidgen of Freudian awareness will have a slightly different take on it: She has to finish raising us first.
10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Oh My God, Don't Stop
8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26