Since the sad death of BURT BACHARACH last Wednesday, 8th February, the media has been full of tributes and obituaries. Most, quite rightly, focused on the basics – his biography and, of course, the magnificent songs he penned with a variety of collaborators. The writers were simply stating the obvious – listing the well-known, the hits, the awards, and stuff that serious music buffs and collectors knew already. So as our special tribute to one of the greatest songsmiths of the modern era, we’d like to spotlight four varied, maybe lesser-known albums that beautifully illustrate the art, craft and skill of Burt Bacharach.
Let’s start with a remarkable long player. In 2003 one of soul’s greatest voices, Ron Isley teamed up with Burt Bacharach for the 13 tracker that was ‘Isley Meets Bacharach; Here I Am’. The songs were all Bacharach/David classics, except for ‘Count On Me’ and ‘Love’s Still The Answer’ which were written by Burt with Tonio K. With the exception of those last two, you’ll know all the songs but with new arrangements, Burt’s production expertise and the angelic voice of Ron Isley, they are quite transformed into things of soulful beauty. Amongst the real highlights is a version of ‘A House is Not A Home’ which gives Luther’s classic treatment a run for its money. Then there’s a take on ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ which cleverly incorporates motifs from ‘You’ll Never Get To Heaven’. Wonderful. The album was released on Dreamworks and is a must for any proper soul collector.
Over the years, countless jazz artists have interpreted the songs of Burt Bacharach and in 1997 pianist McCoy Tyner joined the list when he released his Impulse album, ‘’What The World Needs Now’. The long player offered his remarkable staging of 9 Bacharach classics including ‘Close To You’, ‘One Less Bell To Answer’, ‘Alfie’ and the set’s title track. Tyner is supported by drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Christian McBride alongside a full symphony orchestra. Production is down to Tommy LiPuma, so you’ll have an idea of where this music’s coming from. Innovative, lush, and intriguing, each track delivers the familiar with a totally new perspective. In the sleeve notes, Bacharach writes: “McCoy’s travels and voyages through my music are amazing”. Amazing indeed!
When songs of real quality are given to a mould-breaking producer to work on you can expect pyrotechnics and that’s exactly what happened when Charles Stepney took the mighty Dells into the studio to record 11 Bacharach/David songs. Released in 1972 on Cadet, all serious soul collectors will have ‘The Dells Sing Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits’ and they’ll know how exciting and different the versions of things like ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, ‘Close To You’, ‘Walk On By ‘ and ‘Alfie’ are. They’re all what real covers should be – totally different from the original but respecting the integrity and inherent beauty of the songs.
The last of our “tribute” quartet is more recent – 2005’s ‘At This Time’. This one’s credited to Burt himself and, indeed, he is the principal throughout – writing both the music and (unusually) the lyrics, playing keys, taking some of the vocals and handling all the production and arranging. The album proved that Burt, despite what some critics thought, could move with the times. For the album he used drum loops created by Dr Dre on a couple of tracks – the quite beautiful ‘Is Love Enough’ and the moody ‘Danger’. Burt’s vocals are fragile and emotional on things like ‘Where Did Go’. Elsewhere, regular collaborator Elvis Costello takes lead on ‘Who Are These People’ while horn player Chris Botti adds distinctive “Bacharach muted trumpet” to several cuts. A lovely album released on Sony/BMG.
Here endeth our tribute to Burt Bacharach – someone who seemed like an old friend, someone who provided the soundtrack to much of our lives. Thank you for the music. RIP.