Listening in some cabaret or other to a parade of new songs by new songwriters, back before the turn of the century, I heard someone or other start singing a song about a Playbill, called "Playbill." This turned out not to be a comedic song about bad musicals, as it might well have been; rather, it was a tender and incisive song about the human heart, instigated by a prop which happened to be a Playbill from Sondheim's Passion. I noted the name of the songwriter — John Bucchino — and moved on. Some years later I heard Barbara Cook somewhere sing a hauntingly effective song called "Sweet Dreams," immediately following which she credited it to that same Bucchino. After which I no longer had to ask, who wrote that incredible song?
The songwriter gained increased exposure in 2000, when a collection of his songs — under the title of what might be considered his theme song, "Grateful" — was issued as a star-studded CD as well as a printed songbook. Another important step came in 2006, when an American Songbook concert at Lincoln Center brought forth another fine Bucchino recording, "It's Only Life." In the meanwhile, he has made a couple of incursions into musical theatre, with 3hree — the Hal Prince evening of one-act musicals, including Bucchino's "Lavender Girl" — in 2000 and A Catered Affair in 2008. But the composer thus far has specialized in song miniatures — short stories, if you will, rather than full-length novels — but exquisite short stories. Bucchino as a songwriter is akin to that character in a song by one our most accomplished musical theatre writers who sings of finishing the hat. "Look, I made a hat — where there never was a hat." That's what Bucchino does, again and again. There is no pre-existing character upon which to peg the song; Bucchino creates the characters and their world within the lyric, and he moves us again and again.
We now have a third Bucchino collection, "David Campbell Sings John Bucchino" [Social Family Records]. This is a simple affair, just Campbell singing eleven Bucchino songs with the composer at the piano. But what songs, and how wonderfully well the singer is suited to the material. Campbell is the popular Australian singer and actor who caused a certain amount of excitement in New York in the late 1990s, with two standout cabaret engagements at Rainbow and Stars and a leading role in the 1999 Encores! production of Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms. He has a long-standing connection to the composer; he sang three Bucchino songs on his 1997 solo album, "Taking the Wheel" (which is itself a Bucchino song).
The new recording is simply wonderful. Many of the eleven songs have been heard previously, but no matter; they come out fresh and alive. One suspects that Campbell sounds close to what Bucchino would sound like if he was a strong singer, and the musical accompaniment from the composer is as expressive as the words. While the CD is available here as an import from Australia (with a correspondingly high price), the tracks are downloadable from Amazon and iTunes at normal rates. The booklet — while handsome — is incidental, including lyrics, credits and a handful of session photos but no information about the songs themselves.
The lack of information, as it happens, drove me to the publicist with questions; basically, were any of the songs new or receiving their first recordings? I quickly received what could be considered a full set of liner notes from Bucchino himself. While I had intended to only plug a few quotes into this column, the notes are so informative — and so well reflect the voice of the lyricist — that I have decided to include them here, intact.
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