Betty Buckley: Story Songs

By John Hoglund
Cabaret Scenes
May 25, 2017

Betty Buckley likes to tell stories. On her latest disc, Story Songs, which may arguably be her finest album in years, she proves once again why she is a definitive teller of tales. With ease, she also proves why her vocals are so revered.

Her thrilling vibrato, whether singing sotto voce or belting, sails into gems as wildly diverse as Radiohead’s “High & Dry” to the likes of Emmylou Harris’ “Prayer in Open D,” Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” Joe Iconis’ “Old Flame” (written for Buckley), Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s “Cassandra” to mainstays like the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” And that’s just a sample of the demanding song list she tackles on this live, double CD that will resonate long after the final cut.

Having reached iconic, Tony Award-winning status in musical theater long ago with memorable performances in 1776, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Triumph of Love, Cats, and Sunset Boulevard, among others, Buckley has filled concert venues like Carnegie Hall and other hallowed halls, as well as also packing them into some intimate watering holes like the Bottom Line, Rainbow & Stars, The Blue Note, Cafe Carlyle and Joe’s Pub. Through it all, she’s told a plethora of stories. And, she’s kept it fresh and exciting. Like another singing legend from Broadway, Barbara Cook, Buckley has the gift to rivet the listener with simple nuances, gentle pauses, and electrifying tones that are spine-tingling. In short, she’s a master story teller at the top of her game here.

The first disc was recorded live at the Samueli Theatre at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, with Grammy nominee Christian Jacob on piano, Oz Noy on guitars, Trey Henry on bass, and Ray Brinker on drums. The second disc was taped at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater in New York again with Jacob and Noy, who were joined by Tony Marino on bass and Todd Isler on drums. It would be hard to find better jazz artists.

The album offers these epic songs stamped with her signature attention to every subtlety as she effortlessly captures the beauty and musicianship that make each one so unforgettable. Buckley’s simpatico with these stellar musicians in the tight band and is electric. The collaboration of the musicians with such a lofty array of songwriters has yielded such emotionally inspired vocal interpretations, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else singing them. They are more than “covers” of great songs: they are authentic, consummate renditions of a greatness that defies category.

The terrific addition of stories about Howard DaSilva, Stephen Bruton, and Elaine Stritch, paired with three touching songs, are an added bonus that make this exceptional recording even more generous. Buckley fans will particularly like her spin on “I’m Still Here,” the tuner that caps this unique disc and adds another triumph to the legend of Betty Buckley.