If you have been to a cabaret show or purchased any of a rapidly increasing number of performer driven CDs recently, chances are you have heard a song by John Bucchino (also see interview). His would have been the song that grabbed your attention as you listened to the well thought-out lyric, noticed the sharply defined yet subtle story arc, and encountered a melodic sensibility that oftentimes resembles an art song fused with a pop feel. He has been providing performers with songs to sink their teeth into and thus would give their eyeteeth to get copies of, a difficult feat until the recent publication of a songbook containing sixteen of his songs. The list of artists who have performed his songs on their solo albums reads like a veritable who's who of the crème de la crème of cabaret and theatre: David Campbell, Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein, Nancy LaMott, Lee Lessack, Patti LuPone, Andrea Marcovicci, Sally Mayes, Amanda McBroom...I could go on and complete the alphabet, but you get the idea. Recently, John has had his work featured on three CDs: an all-star compilation (Grateful), as one-third of a three-act musical (3HREE), and on a solo CD of his own (Solitude Lessons).
Last year, John produced a compilation CD to act as a companion piece for his songbook, Grateful. Both contain the same sixteen songs which run the gamut of styles from soaring power ballads, ("Grateful" sung by Michael Feinstein), to harder pop-edged numbers (Brian Lane Green's "Taking the Wheel" ). He is equally at home with simple wistful love songs ("Unexpressed," by Adam Guettel in one of the best performances on the disk), as with complex one-act stories (Judy Collins' heart rending take on "Sweet Dreams" or "Sepia Life," which chronicles an affair from start to finish and is masterfully sung by Andrea Marcovicci). John is definitely a thinking person's songwriter and requires an active listener. The fluffiest song on the CD ("That Smile," a duet between Liza Minnelli and Billy Stritch) still has a complexity of lyric and melody that outshines anything in the pop world currently, as well as the average theater and cabaret number. His subjects are inherently theatrical, detailing topics such as runaway Hollywood wannabes ("Sweet Dreams"), to losing a parent ("Temporary"), to struggling with the acceptance of bad news ("Not a Cloud in the Sky," sung by John Bucchino himself on the CD). All songs feature John Bucchino providing solo piano accompaniment. Grateful is a must have album for serious music lovers who desire some meat in their listening diet, as well as for performers looking for new material. Many of the songs on the CD are receiving their initial recordings, including "Better Than I" from the Dreamworks direct-to-video Joseph, Prince of Dreams, sung on both the video and on Grateful by David Campbell.
One of the songs, "Dancing," (sung on Grateful by Patti LuPone) appears on another recent release, the cast album of 3HREE. A collection of three one act musicals, 3HREE recently had its world premier in Philadelphia at the Prince Music Theatre, named in honor of director Harold Prince who directed one of the three pieces. The first of the stories, The Mice, is based on a story by Sinclair Lewis and has music by Laurence O'Keefe and lyrics by Julia Jordan. It's a charming tale of an exterminator, Allan (John Scherer), who is having an affair with Virga (Valerie Wright). In order to facilitate their trysts, she releases mice into the homes of her friends and neighbors. Of the three, this is the weakest on disk, as the songs do not have a uniform feel and the vacillating song styles fail to set up a distinct era. But The Mice does contain some winning numbers, chief of which is "Two Hours Here," sung by the adulterous couple about the drawbacks of their situation.
The second piece, Lavender Girl, has music and lyrics by John Bucchino and is an expanded version of one of the segments in his musical Urban Myths. The show is firmly set in the South during the Jazz era and chronicles one night of reckless pre-college abandon by a young man, Colin Scott (Will Gartshore), who's out looking for a conquest. What he finds, instead, is Lavender (Rachel Ulanet), a mysterious girl with whom he ultimately falls in love . To tell any more would require a spoiler warning, (but I doubt the ending would surprise anybody). The music is the strongest on the CD and alternates between toe-tapping numbers ("Leaving Town"), and poignant ballads ("Dancing," winningly sung by Rachel Ulanet who brings a youthful innocence to the number that is surprisingly touching).
The third and last piece, The Flight of the Lawnchair Man, has music and lyrics by Robert Lindsey Nassif, who also provided the concept for the piece. The most fantastical of the three one-acts, it tells the tale of Jerry (Christopher Fitzgerald) whose thwarted dreams of flight inspire him to attach 400 helium balloons to a Walmart lawnchair. His flight brings him in conflict with the FAA and a jealous 747 pilot, as well as in contact with Leonardo Da Vinci (Roger E Dewitt), Charles Lindbergh (Herndon Lackey, sounding like Jimmy Stewart) and Amelia Earhart (Rachel Ulanet doing a great Katherine Hepburn impersonation). While the piece is ultimately entertaining and satisfying in its storytelling, the songs sound unnervingly like Alan Menken's Disney fare, especially "The Air is Free," which is sung by Jack's wife, Gracie (Donna Lynne Champlin), and resembles "Colors of the Wind" a touch too much.
Overall, it's a highly enjoyable album featuring songwriters who I hope will be making more additions to the musical theater cannon. All involved possess a deft touch with music and language and their work is well realized by an excellent cast.
Finally, John Bucchino has also produced a solo album, Solitude Lessons which was recorded almost a decade ago. It was originally intended for use as a demo tape and to sell after the concerts in which he played for singer Holly Near, and it is a 100% realization of his efforts and vision. Not only did he write and sing all the songs, but he overlaid all the instrumentation as well. Newly remixed and remastered by Alan Silverman, who worked on the Grateful album, the CD is available through John's website (www.johnbucchino.com) and through Colony Records. It's an intimate album that reflects his pop sensibilities more than the lyrical cabaret style found on Grateful. Listening to the CD, one can readily hear the pop and folk influences in his life, from the Elton John inspired "Impossible Here" to the Stevie Wonder (verging on Earth Wind and Fire territory) feeling "The Same Man." The songs make for a fascinating listen, not only because all but one are initial recordings, but because it offers a rare glimpse into how a songwriter interprets his own works. John has a pleasant voice reminiscent of Art Garfunkel and is well suited (thankfully!) for his material.