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Album Review

Denise Donatelli: Whistling in the Dark... The Music of Burt Bacharach

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Denise Donatelli: Whistling in the Dark... The Music of Burt Bacharach
The Burt Bacharach canon has always been fertile ground for artists of all kinds to explore. Stan Getz devoted an entire album to his fare. The big Bacharach hits are branded deep in the cultural psyche. Thus, the challenge that Grammy-nominated vocalist Denise Donatelli and producer Larry Klein have here is how to use a different ladle to invite you to imbibe from their recipe for Bacharach's musical champagne.

The session offers four Bacharach/Hal David hits—three hits with Dionne Warwick and one with Dusty Springfield—and two lesser-known Bacharach and Elvis Costello pieces. If there's a theme across Bacharach's popular hits, it is romantic love—and the boundless range of emotions love brings. However, on this session the mood is somewhat somber and less idealistic than the originals that flowed on AM frequencies decades ago in a different societal-cultural landscape.

The title track, originally done with a C+W sprinkle by Bacharach and Daniel Tashian, launches the session on a darker, "Twin Peaks"-tremeloed tone. "The Look of Love" is taken as original presented, albeit slightly reharmonized with a textural modality and a fine Anthony Wilson guitar solo. "In Between the Heartaches" is poetically darker than the 1966 Dionne Warwick take. "Toledo," and "In the Darkest Place," both Bacharach-Costello collaborations, are deeply dramatic items. "Mexican Divorce" is a Bacharach Brill Building classic that was originally recorded by "The Drifters" in the late 1950s (with pre-Bacharach Dionne Warwick and Whitney Houston's Mom, Cissy included on backup vocals).

On each of these and throughout the album, Donatelli is a rhapsode, a tale-teller and artist of the highest order. She has always been a singer of vocalized intimacy. Here, as is her trademark, she's being intimate with our ear (and, ensuingly, our hearts) via the poetry she delivers. Her diction and pitch are pure and her phrasing is almost instrumental. She carries her lines to the end where, based on the lyric, they either wring out every drop of emotional juice or just plain ring out. As for her all-around artistic chops, she could make Bacharach's "Beware of the Blob" become a lusciously seductive love song. .

Interestingly, there are no up-tempo selections on the date. Leading one to further confirm there are "concept" elements at play. "Casino Royale" and "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" stayed home. The studio musicians are world class and the arrangements are such that the spotlight is on the vocalist. All are reserved in a minimalistic, yet colorful way. Think a beautiful Japanese watercolor.

Whistling in the Dark may not appeal to listeners who prefer their Bacharach as originally birthed. However, in terms of vocal and production excellence, this take provides—as all great art should—an intelligent, involving, emotion-delivering perspective. Knowing Bacharach, he will assuredly raise a goblet and drink up.

Track Listing

Whistling in the Dark; The Look of Love; Between the Heartaches; Toledo; Anyone Who Had a Heart; Walk on By; In the Darkest Place; Mexican Divorce; A House is Not a Home.

Personnel

Denise Donatelli: voice / vocals; Larry Goldings: organ, Hammond B3; Thomas Dybdahl: synthesizer; Anthony Wilson: guitar; Larry Klein: guitar, acoustic; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums.

Album information

Title: Whistling in the Dark... The Music of Burt Bacharach | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Savant Records


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