‘Story Songs’: Betty Buckley’s musical truth

By Joe Meyers
Connecticut News
April 11, 2017

Betty Buckley’s new 2-CD release is called “Story Songs” (Palmetto Records).

The title is perfect because each tune becomes a mini three-act play in the fresh interpretations of this wonderful singer-actor, whether she is applying her talent to a classic theater song (“You’ve Got to Be Taught”) or Radiohead’s “High and Dry.”

One CD was recorded at the Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa, California, last year, and the other CD of “bonus tracks” consists of performances from a gig at Joe’s Pub (above) in New York City in 2015.

Working with a terrific quartet of musicians, led by Christian Jacob on the piano, Buckley digs so deep into the lyrics of each tune that they all become theater songs, whether or not they were written with that intention.

The sound balance on the CDs is especially good, with Buckley blending perfectly with her band, and audience response kept to a minimum. The performer has done fabulous recordings with full symphony orchestras, but there is an intimacy enveloping “Story Songs” that gives us an even greater appreciation of the interpretive skills of this veteran.

The voice has deepened since the days of “He Plays the Violin” in “1776” and it sounds richer in this simple but elegant setting.

The Joe’s Pub CD includes a few biographical introductions that set up the songs beautifully. Buckley talks about working with the blacklisted actor Howard DeSilva on his big return to the New York theater as Benjamin Franklin in “1776.” Prickly at first, the veteran quickly warmed up to his young co-star and he eventually asked that she sing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” at his funeral. The Joe’s Pub rendition is magnificent.

Buckley also talks about another theater legend, Elaine Stritch, as a “guardian angel” before she delivers her own potent take on one of Stritch’s signature songs “I’m Still Here.”

The career anecdotes and the songs that seem to add up to a new Betty Buckley play left me wishing that, at some point, the star will do a full-scale autobiographical show in the vein of Stritch’s “At Liberty.”