Have you ever wondered what your favorite singers might have in an iPod playlist?
Fans of Fort Worth native and Tony-winner Betty Buckley know that while she's best-known for Broadway songs, she also cherishes the popular music she has listened to throughout her life. On past records and in concerts that aren't billed as all-Broadway, it's not unusual to hear her reinterpreting something from James Taylor or Joni Mitchell, for instance.
Her recent independent release, Bootleg: Boardmixes From the Road (Practical Magic Productions), is good insight into the musical mind—and heart—of Buckley, gently mixed with pop standards and tunes from the more recent popular canon, melding storytelling with raw emotion. Many of them she has performed in concert, but she has not recorded any of these songs before.
It's fitting that the launching pad for these nine songs is "Honest Emotion," a heartfelt number written by Michael McDonald, John Goodwin and Charles Frichtel and recorded by McDonald's wife Amy Holland. Buckley's voice is both soft and strong, and the emotion comes through on record. The same could be said of "Ghost in This House," a beautiful post-breakup song by Hugh Prestwood that was first recorded by country group Shenandoah, but known for Allison Krauss' exquisite and hauntingly fragile version. Buckley's take finds strength amid the vulnerability.
Both of those songs were arranged by Clifford Carter, who arranged three of the album's tracks ("Bye Bye Country Boy" by Blossom Dearie and Jack Segal is the other). Buckley's longtime collaborator Kenny Werner takes jazzy arrangement credit for five others, while the final track, Irving Berlin's optimistic "Blue Skies," is arranged by Tom Canning and will be featured on Buckley's T. Bone Burnett-produced album, Ghostlight, coming out this fall. (Burnett produced her first album, which was released as Betty Buckley 1967.)
On Boardmixes, Buckley shows off her love for storytelling (James Taylor's "On the 4th of July" and Nat King Cole/Irving Mills' whimsical "Straighten Up and Fly Right"), but also a weakness for straight-from-the-heart emotion, as with "Country Boy," "Ghost in This House" and Lisa Loeb's "Falling in Love."
The first eight songs are also produced by Buckley (Burnett produced "Blue Skies"), and Texas musicians, such as Stephen Bruton, pop up (he does guitar honors on "Ghost").
It's a solid little collection that may not satisfy a listener who only knows her for Broadway work and interpretations of showtunes. Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring" is the only song written for a musical on Boardmixes, and it's from State Fair, which was a film first. ("Blue Skies" made it into The Jazz Singer, as well.)
But for anyone who appreciates eclectic tastes and Buckley's mezzo-soprano, which can be soft and soothing or go for the big belt, then it's a must-have. It's amazing that she's able to take songs performed by such delicate voices as those by Krauss and Dearie, and uphold that fragility while still giving them some oomph. And for those who love her way with a belt, she satisfies that request, too.
Consider it a gift from a friend who made her own mixed tape, but just happens to have an amazing, award-winning voice, a special talent for interpretation and excellent taste in material.
Buckley is also co-starring in the Dallas Theater Center's production of Arsenic and Old Lace, opposite Tovah Feldshuh, which begins previews Feb. 4, opens Feb. 11 and runs through March 13 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.