Burt Bacharach, 92, is releasing his first new song in 15 years: Listen
Composer and songwriter Burt Bacharach’s music has often been a salve for troubled times. Twentieth century standards like “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “Alfie” were radical statements tucked within irresistible melodies and timeless arrangements. Sophisticated, baroque pop that sounded like little else on the radio, those classics and a raft of others, most written with lyricist and longtime collaborator Hal David, resonated long after they left the charts.
Bacharach, 92, has worked mostly under the radar since 2005, when he released his last album, the politically tinged “At the Time.” Now, as if on cue, the songwriter has reemerged with “Blue Umbrella,” a five-song collaboration recorded last June in Nashville with Grammy-winning writer/producer Daniel Tashian. They spoke recently about the project via Zoom, Bacharach from his Pacific Palisades home, Tashian from Nashville.
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“His songs speak to finding the brotherhood and the sisterhood and the humanity inside all of us,” said Tashian. “So it feels good now to be working on material with [him] because it’s almost like going with a sea captain that’s sort of sailed these waters before. Navigated changing times, changing tides.”
Tashian got Bacharach’s attention with his work as a writer and producer on Kacey Musgraves’ album “Golden Hour.” “It’s a striking album, one of the best in the last couple of years,” Bacharach said. “Beautiful songs. Beautifully produced.”
They sat down to write at Bacharach’s home the night after Tashian won a pair of Grammys, including album of the year, in February 2019, for “Golden Hour.”
“We just fooled around a little bit and wrote a song before the day was over,” said Bacharach. “I’m totally comfortable working with him. The one other experience I had that [was] not dissimilar was working with Elvis Costello when we did [1998’s] ‘Painted From Memory.’ Somebody adds a word. Somebody adds a chord. I can’t find a chord and sometimes Daniel will give me the chord.”
The first single, “Bells of St. Augustine,” is classic Bacharach — meticulous jazz-pop that’s both wistful and uplifting. “Burt had a mumble of a voice memo and some chords, and I just was immediately struck by it,” Tashian said. “I loved the mode of it. I loved the rhythm of it. I loved the place in my voice that it occupied.”
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The pair continue to write remotely, influenced by the unease of the moment. “We’ve got this song called ‘21st Century Man’ we’re working on right now,” Tashian says. “It’s really kind of singing about the plight of 21st century existence for people who ... feel more comfortable in the 20th century, but here we are. What can we do? What can we do to make the world a better place? How can we live here together?”
For Bacharach, the process of creating music is the one thing that can distract him from that turmoil. “I’m going to get my drug. I’m going to go to the keyboard and make things feel better,” he said. “Once I’m at the keyboard and I’m trying to solve some problems, this is what’s on my mind. It isn’t what little Donnie did that day, you know?”
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