Latest reviews of new albums:
  • Composed by Burt Bacharach
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2017 / 48m

They don’t make legends much more legendary than Burt Bacharach, songwriter extraordinaire.  Now 88, he still makes occasional performances, usually to great acclaim.  His arsenal of classic pop songs is probably without peer.  Over the years he has often contributed songs to films and occasionally written scores too – Po is his first in a very long time indeed.  It’s a small-scale film shown at festivals during 2016, yet to receive a widespread release, but it’s one that touched the composer very personally.

The film tells the story of a father left to raise his autistic son alone following the death of his wife from cancer.  Many of the more significant players behind the camera have autistic children; Bacharach himself had a daughter with Asperger’s who took her own life.  Originally he was only approached about licencing a song to use in the film, but he was so touched by it he decided he’s actually like to score it.

Burt Bacharach

His music is quite slight – it is mostly just a piano, played by the composer – but certainly touching.  Yes, there is a new Bacharach song – “Dancing With Your Shadow” – and it’s a vintage work by the veteran.  With lyrics by Billy Mann and a lovely performance by Sheryl Crow, it’s a beautiful piece of work dominated – of course – by a killer tune.  The melody forms the basis for the majority of the score, light and airy and breezy and always completely charming.  It’s almost all played by solo piano – Bacharach himself – with a couple of brief cues of what sounds like a synthesised guitar.  The secondary idea, as heard in “Amelia Says Goodbye” and “Sherwood Forest”, doesn’t stray too far from the main theme and is almost as luxurious.

Many of the cues are very short and indeed some of them end rather abruptly as if someone’s taken the needle off the record, so there isn’t really much sense of dramatic flow – it’s emotionally direct music but it is expressed rather delicately.  There may be only one hue to the Bacharach tunes here – but it’s certainly a warm one.  What splashes of other colour that there are in the score come in fact from a different composer, Joseph Bauer, credited with additional music on the front cover of the album (he actually wrote just over 20 minutes of the music on the album).  Bauer’s music is often also led by a solo piano, and is only occasionally less delicate than Bacharach’s, but it’s generally much sadder, with keyboard textures and sometimes a little percussion joining in, going into much darker territory at times.  Some of the Bauer pieces are rather touching themselves (the closing stages of “Through the Door” are wonderful), but not blessed with any particularly memorable melodies and it’s a bit tv movie-ish to be honest.

Speaking of memorable melodies, Bacharach’s classic “Close to You” appears twice here, once in a gorgeous solo piano arrangement and once in a new performance by Bethany Joy Lenz.  It’s so brilliant it rather overshadows everything else, but the new song really is also a good one and its extended solo piano performance by Bacharach, accompanied by sampled strings, which closes the album is just great.  Fans of the composer (and frankly, is anyone not a fan of Burt Bacharach?) will certainly find much to like here, but whether in the longer term anyone will listen to much other than the song at the start and the piano arrangement of the same melody at the end, I’m not so sure.  Still, it’s all very lovely and great to see him still going so strong.

Rating: *** | |

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