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"American Pie"
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Cover Story [Issue # 18 ]
Burt Bacharach: At This Time

By Dean Truitt

At This Time ( CD Columbia )


Burt Bacharach’s name resides comfortably in the rarefied company of the other 20th century pop music masterminds such as: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and Brian Wilson.

hough most people take for granted the fact that he is a melodic prodigy, some may not realize the scope of his accomplishments. Among countless honors he has attained, the prolific composer has garnered three Academy Awards for Best Song, six Grammy Awards, nine Number One singles, and 48 Top Ten singles.

Like many of history’s great songwriters, Bacharach has almost always written with a collaborator. His most astounding period of hits came with lyricist Hal David. In the span of a mere 16 years, the pair dashed of a seemingly endless string of pop perfection: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” “What the World Needs Now,” “The Look of Love,” “Close to You,” “Alfie,” “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me,” and “What’s New Pussycat?” to name just a few.

After ending the brilliant partnership in 1973 with his lyricist, Bacharach began collaborating with Carole Bayer Sager, with whom he wrote the Oscar-winning song, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” and “That’s What Friends Are For.” Performed by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Dionne Warwick, the song raised awareness and funds for AIDS charities in the late -‘80s.
Throughout the years, Bacharach’s legend continues to grow and he remains a fixture in popular culture. He has made appearances in each of the Austin Powers movies and has worked extensively with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Elvis Costello, Ronald Isley, and scores of others. His songs appear in constant rotation in film, television, and radio.

At 77 years of age, most people would have probably started slowing down or long since retired. In a maverick move, Bacharach decided it was time to take his writing workload up a notch. With the release of At This Time, the mastermind wrote lyrics for the first time in his career. He observes, “You could say it’s a suite. A lot of this happened that words seemed to flow with it as I wrote the music. There are no songs really from top to bottom. There’s not an intro, then the singer comes in, and then there’s an ending like in most songs. That’s what constitutes a song. This is like observations. One line here and there. It was very intentional.”

Much of Bacharach’s motivation to express his thoughts verbally was a bitter distaste for the political events of the past several years. He laments, “I took my heartbreak for the Twin Towers and these guys getting killed in a really useless war. So, things just took off. I was a non-political person and never was really involved. I wanted Gore to win in 2000 and was disappointed. In 2004, I really was very supportive of Kerry. I didn’t believe in what was going on. I detest what is going on. And how much of it had to do with these little kids that I’ve got? I have a nine-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 19-year-old. As you can hear, I sing about them. That was important to me to refer to. What I could do growing up and what they can do.”

After a career of writing three-minute pop confections, Bacharach speaks praise for his record company’s willingness to let him go against what people would expect from him. He explains, “It was made fortunately for Sony/BMG in Europe. The label said, ‘Take chances, take risks, and don’t try to give us ten love songs. It’s not what we’re looking for.”

Another amazing aspect of Bacharach’s approach is that he is not afraid to involve a daringly eclectic cast of contributors in his most recent project. Few musicians would ever assemble such a diverse array of producers and performers for one CD. Bacharach even enlisted several urban music pioneers (Dr. Dre, Printz Board, and Denaun Porter) to help formulate the sound he was seeking. On his involvement with Dr. Dre , Bacharach spoke glowingly of the maverick producer, “The thing with Dre started when he was going to make his last album a few years ago. He owed one solo album to the label and never got around to it until this summer. Because he does Eminem and 50 Cent, he’s the busiest guy and a brilliant, brilliant producer. He wanted to meet me and I wanted to meet him. We met and he gave me about seven drum loops and said, ‘See what you can come up with.’ I took them home and started to work on several of them musically with synths and things like that just to take a Polaroid picture of what it might be. I then brought it in to play it for him and he wasn’t ready to start the album. He liked it, but I knew in my heart even if he liked it, we were somewhere out there maybe a little too far in left field. It may have been too extreme [for him] with the harmonies and all. I told him if he ever wanted me to do strings for him on his album, I’d love to do it. He’s a good guy.”

One might be amazed to learn that the legendary songwriter faced new challenges in working with new forms of R&B production methods. He admits, “Melody has always been my thing. It can be a little challenging with the Dre stuff because there are [drum] loops with a bass line and the bass line keeps repeating too. It can be hard to find harmonically because it’s very rigid. You’ve got to have the discipline to write totally over it [the repeating rhythmic pattern] and most of the time, you break through. ‘Danger,’ which is one of my favorite cuts on the album, is Dre’s title. I took it literally – that’s a dangerous bass line. I couldn’t even tell you what those notes are exactly on that bass line. I know approximately what they are, but then you write over that. If you listen to ‘Danger,’ you’ll see there’s a certain point where I said, ‘Well, let’s take the loop out when it goes to a different key. ‘Danger’ is a three-movement piece. There is a beginning with the drum loop, a middle section with the violin and no drums, and a saxophone and piano interaction with a melody. Then you come of it back to the main theme, back to the drum loop. I don’t think that song would have survived with a drum loop all the way through it. But you don’t feel that until you’re writing it and sit back and listen to it. It’s still got to be interesting to me to have a prayer to be interesting to anybody else.”

While Bacharach’s primary success has always been as a composer rather than an artist, At This Time benefits from his atypical vocal style. His singing duties on the album primarily resemble more of a reflective spoken word meditation while other vocalists handle the soaring melodies. As usual, his casting decisions are spot on. Rufus Wainwright delivers a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the plaintive melody on the track, “Go Ask Shakespeare.” Explaining the process of selecting Wainwright, Bacharach notes, “With Rufus, there was a temporary vocal [track] on there at the end, just myself singing it. I played ‘Go Ask Shakespeare’ for [executive at Sony/BMG in the UK] Rob Stringer in Italy last summer when there were four tracks done on this album and Rufus came up immediately to his mind and my mind. He was a little to the left of center, nothing obvious. I sent Rufus the rough mix with me singing. He loved it and said, ‘I’m on. Count me in.’ So, that’s how we got Rufus.”

Chris Botti also delivers a stunningly melodic trumpet interpretation of At This Time’s instrumental gem, “In Our Time.” Possibly the greatest guest appearance on the CD belongs to the maestro’s old friend, Elvis Costello. Bacharach recalls, “Elvis . . . I’ve had some history with Elvis. We did the From Memory album and I am very amazed by his work. I sent him ‘Who Are These People?’ with a temporary vocal of myself [singing] in Italy over the summer. Elvis said, ‘Of course I’ll do it, I love it!”

Considering his last truly solo release was 1977’s Futures, it would be understandable if Burt Bacharach had lost the wherewithal to create such a focused effort. However, one has to imagine that if Burt Bacharach still has the ability to appeal to music’s giants past and present, he still knows how to push the buttons and pull at the heartstrings.


At This Time
Columbia

At This Time Burt Bacharach At This Time


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