BWW CD Reviews: Betty Buckley’s ‘GHOSTLIGHT’ is Dreamy Perfection

by David Clarke, Broadway World
October 2, 2014

 It’s those quiet hours-the last few before dawn. Every one has left the theatre, and a single, bare bulb on a stand burns on stage to keep the ghosts company. That is more-or-less the inspiration and significance of the incomparable Betty Buckley’s new and haunting album “GHOSTLIGHT”, produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett. He approached Betty Buckley with the idea of a “Crime Jazz” album, but she found the same musical vocabulary he was looking for within one of theater’s most well-known traditions/superstitions.

Betty Buckley and Henry “T Bone” Burnett have been friends since they were teenagers, both growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. “GHOSTLIGHT” is not their first time to work together. When both were 19, fate brought Betty Buckley into T Bone Burnett’s recording studio. Her mother wanted to make an archival recording of her voice and the jazz standards she had been singing around town. This very recording would later be released in 2007, titled BETTY BUCKLEY 1967.

When T Bone Burnett heard the 2007 release, he told Betty Buckley that he wept as he remembered recording it and suggested that they create a new album together. Over the years, T Bone Burnett had always said that they create a new album, but finally all the pieces were in the right place and the collaboration moved from idea to physical reality in the form of “GHOSTLIGHT”.

Sonically, “GHOSTLIGHT” is a dreamy compilation of beloved Broadway showtunes, quintessential standards from the American Songbook, songs from the bands of the 60s, and tunes from contemporary singer/songwriters. As a whole and individually, this record and each track transplants listeners into the dimly lit ether of an empty theatre. Like figures dancing around the gleaming light, Betty Buckley’s voice on each track catches our attention. We are drawn to the smoky, shadow play she creates, aurally appealing to our hearts, imaginations, and souls. With a life lived on the stage, Betty Buckley sings with all the magic that a true performer can muster and makes “GHOSTLIGHT” one of the most tender yet provocative celebrations of a modern American legend imaginable.

With the assistance of T Bone Burnett, Betty Buckley took a list of 55 songs (not to mention the extra song assignments that T Bone Burnett gave her) and narrowed it down to 12. In doing this, T Bone Burnett and Betty Buckley have gifted listeners with a perfect album. No one song is weaker or stronger than the others it accompanies, making picking standouts incredibly hard. In fact the songs I favor on the album simply come from having more familiarity with them over others.

For example, “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from BRIGADOON, “If You Go Away” from JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS, the standard “Bewitched,” and “This Nearly Was Mine” from SOUTH PACIFIC inspire awe as each has been masterfully arranged for and performed by Betty Buckley. Yet, songs like Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” Henry N. Mancini’s “Dreamsville,” Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s “Take It With Me When I Go,” and Chapin Carpenter’s “Where Time Stands Still,” which I’m less familiar with, all appeal to me and impress me with their pristinely articulated and richly evocative artistry.

I can honestly say that I doubt I’ve ever come across an album as perfectly constructed and put together as “GHOSTLIGHT”. Whether you are a fan of Betty Buckley or not, whether you are familiar with T Bone Burnett’s lauded production skills or not, whether you’re a jazz aficionado or novice (like me), “GHOSTLIGHT” is an album you should own. In the age of buying a digital single song or two from an entire album, the art of creating a record that is stirring from beginning to end is almost completely gone. Yet, T Bone Burnett and Betty Buckley definitely resuscitate it with “GHOSTLIGHT”. Everything about this CD works from beginning to end.

Palmetto Records released Betty Buckley’s “GHOSTLIGHT” both digitally and physically on September 16, 2014. A vinyl release is expected on October 27. The album can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.