Bacharach still in­spired at 92

Times Colonist - - Arts - STEVEN WINE

Burt Bacharach has been work­ing on an end­ing.

Not that he’s ready to call it quits on a ca­reer that be­gan in the 1950s. In­stead, the ac­claimed com­poser is en­joy­ing a burst of cre­ativ­ity at age 92, thanks to his new col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nashville singer­song­writer Daniel Tashian.

On Fri­day they re­leased a five-song EP ti­tled Blue Um­brella. And de­spite be­ing sep­a­rated by two time zones and a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions, they’re con­tin­u­ing to write mu­sic to­gether, in­clud­ing a tune ti­tled Quiet Place, which is nearly fin­ished.

“I do have an end­ing,” Bacharach tells Tashian dur­ing a re­cent three-way phone call. “It hits home. Later, we will talk and I will play it for you. I think it’s what you’re look­ing for.” “I can’t wait,” Tashian re­sponds. That’s the likely re­ac­tion of any Bacharach fan to the prospect of new mu­sic from the com­poser of This Guy’s In Love With You, Rain­drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head and What the World Needs Now Is Love, among many other hits. The EP is his first al­bum in 15 years, and he’s glad to keep busy dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

“In these times it’s like a life­saver, while be­ing ter­ri­fied at what’s hap­pen­ing out­side,” Bacharach says from his home in Pa­cific Pal­isades, Cal­i­for­nia. “It’s a form of ther­apy.”

Tashian, 45, is also de­lighted by the im­prob­a­ble col­lab­o­ra­tion and its tim­ing. His par­ents, the folk duo Barry and Holly Tashian, played in Em­my­lou Har­ris’s Hot Band. His dad was a mem­ber of the Re­mains when they opened for the Bea­tles at Shea Sta­dium. And Tashian grew up a Bacharach fan. “They say when the stu­dent is ready, the teacher ap­pears,” Tashian says from his home in Nashville. “It’s a great thrill. There is a whole world of sound in his head that is so pleas­ing to be able to col­lab­o­rate with.”

Tashian started writ­ing songs in high school, plays in two bands and last month re­leased his second chil­dren’s al­bum, Mr. Moonlight. He won two Gram­mys last year for his role as a song­writer and pro­ducer on Kacey Mus­graves’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed re­lease Golden Hour, and that al­bum brought him to the attention of Bacharach.

They first met at Bacharach’s house the day after last year’s Gram­mys and im­me­di­ately hit it off.

“The more we spent time to­gether,” Bacharach says, “the more I liked Daniel, and the more bril­liance he showed to me.”

Over the phone, Bacharach has the same raspy voice that sang Close to You with Bar­bra Streisand on net­work TV. That was be­fore so­cial dis­tanc­ing, as the in­ti­mate 1971 performanc­e sug­gests.

An ap­pear­ance on a re­cent pro­mo­tional Zoom call shows Bacharach also still has a Cal­i­for­nia chic shock of grey hair. He might hunch a bit, but then that’s piano player pos­ture, and he doesn’t look, talk or write like he’s 92.

Bacharach once wrote a song ti­tled [It’s] Won­der­ful to Be Young, but he has al­ways worked as though time were on his side.

“It took me three weeks to write Al­fie,” he says. “I never en­joyed anything else while I was try­ing to fin­ish that song. I was go­ing to the theatre and not en­joy­ing the play, be­cause my mind was on try­ing to solve a prob­lem with Al­fie.

“But they don’t give medals for speed.” Bacharach was work­ing for Mar­lene Di­et­rich in Las Ve­gas in 1957 when he learned he had his first hit — a coun­try ren­di­tion of The Story of My Life by Marty Rob­bins. Such is the range of artists drawn to Bacharach’s work over the decades.

Now comes Blue Um­brella, with Bacharach com­pos­ing most of the mu­sic and Tashian writ­ing most of the lyrics. It’s a set of grace­ful, soul­ful bal­lads with an air of so­phis­ti­ca­tion that is clas­sic Bacharach.

One song, ti­tled Bells of St. Au­gus­tine, in­cludes a one-oc­tave in­ter­val in the melody. It was Tashian’s role to sing the songs, and he filled it beautifull­y, although he con­cedes he doesn’t read mu­sic well and was a bit un­nerved to have Bacharach as­sess­ing his stu­dio performanc­e from the piano.

“I re­mem­ber one time say­ing: ‘Burt, is there anything you want me to change?”’ Tashian re­calls with a chuckle. “And he said: ‘But wait a minute, you didn’t even get the notes right yet. Let’s not change anything, let’s just get it right.’ ”

They fin­ished record­ing the EP be­fore the pan­demic be­gan. When it ends, they hope to per­form the songs in con­cert, and also hope to write and record a full al­bum to­gether.

Tashian was struck when they first met by Bacharach’s ea­ger­ness to keep work­ing.

“I re­mem­ber go­ing into Burt’s writ­ing room,” Tashian says. “There are a lot of tro­phies in there. I was think­ing: ‘Man, if I had done half the stuff you’ve been able to do, I’d prob­a­bly just put my feet up a lit­tle bit.’ He cor­rected me right away. He said: ‘You don’t want to put your feet up. You want to say, What’s next?’ ”

That’s Burt Bacharach at 92, in­spir­ing be­cause he’s still in­spired.

Com­poser Burt Bacharach col­lab­o­rated with Nashville singer-song­writer Daniel Tashian on a new five-song EP ti­tled Blue Um­brella.

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