An evening with Susan Werner
Over the course of her colorful career, singer songwriter Susan Werner has cultivated a reputation as a daring and innovative songwriter with a killer live show. She boldly endeavors to weave old with new to create altogether new genres of music when existing ones do not suit her muse, and she regularly keeps audiences guessing and laughing simultaneously. Most of her work infuses traditional music styles and methods with her unmistakable contemporary worldview, constantly challenging listeners to experience music from a fresh and unexpected perspective. Susan Werner's new release Classics asks no less of her distinguished audience or herself.
With Classics, Werner delivers entirely new string arrangements of mainstream popular songs by top songwriters from a "classical" pop era - the sixties and seventies. Drawing on her unique training as a classical vocalist (she has a master's degree in music history and voice performance), and the diverse talents of esteemed Boston Symphony and Pops players, Classics sets a mood that highlights elegance and sophistication previously overlooked in the first lives of songs like Paul Simon's A Hazy Shade of Winter, Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed and America's Lonely People.
Produced by Crit Harmon (Martin Sexton, Mary Gauthier, Lori McKenna among others, and 2007 Boston Music Awards Producer of the Year), and co-arranged by Werner with renowned Boston Pops arranger and pianist Brad Hatfield, Classics features ten songs chosen because they met three deeply considered criteria: the renewed relevancy of their messages for modern times, their correlation with her own worldview as a folk pop singer/songwriter, and their potential to blossom when performed with chamber music instruments. States Werner: "It seemed to me a chamber music approach to pop songs could reveal the poetry and impact of some of these lyrics in ways that groove driven arrangements completely overlook."
In addition to re-fashioning each song for the accompaniment of string quartet, woodwinds, brass, classical guitar or piano, Werner invites listeners to enjoy the surprising connections between pop and classical music by incorporating the occasional quotation from the world of classical music into these arrangements. Werner's thoughtful piano-strings approach to Bob Marley's Waiting In Vain, with quotations from Erik Satie's Suite: Trois Gymnopédies was the impetus for the entire project. But she didn't stop there... "The Bach cello suite excerpt sounds like a great gust of wind somehow, which set up Cat Steven's The Wind perfectly," states Susan. "The Rodrigo quote filled out the Spanish classical guitar arrangement on Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and the quotes from Vivaldi's Winter match the cold and frosty regrets in A Hazy Shade of Winter in a way that makes such sense that I really can't believe nobody did it before."
Werner relishes the challenge of being a creative free spirit and says she's in an exciting new phase of doing themed projects. In her 2004 release I Can't Be New, she delivered her modern contribution to the Great American Songbook by writing originals in the style of Gershwin and Cole Porter, but from a present-day woman's point of view. It was for her work on this album that The Chicago Tribune called her "the most innovative songwriter working today." The album went to #1 on Amazon.com, the song I Can't Be New was included in iTunes Cabaret Essentials, and Werner appeared on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz and A&E's Breakfast With The Arts.
In 2007, she blended faith and doubt in her "agnostic gospel" record The Gospel Truth - a collection of original songs drawing on gospel music traditions from Folk/Bluegrass to Americana to R&B/Soul/Spiritual, and presenting lyrics that have been praised by religious believers and non-believers alike across the country. NPR Weekend Edition's Susan Stamberg may have put it best when she called The Gospel Truth "a musical, lyrical examination of personal, social, and political faith in America... [from] a hip, wry, gifted performer." The Gospel Truth was named 2007 Top Folk Album of the Year by NPR/Folk Alley and WUMB, and Susan Werner was named Best Contemporary Folk Artist at the 2008 International Folk Alliance music conference.
It was with I Can't Be New and The Gospel Truth, that Werner firmly established her reputation as one of the boldest creative forces on the acoustic scene today. While the concepts are never simple, she has proven time and time again, her unwavering ability to deliver on the truly original promises of her inventive, visionary way of making music. "With Classics I hope to make classical music a little less scary for people," she says. "Some people treat it like fine glassware, up in the cabinet somewhere, too fragile for everyday use. But classical music is more sturdy and practical than most people imagine and it reveals so much about the composition underneath - in this case, some undeniably great songs by great songwriters. I hope Classics will be like that moment when we find ourselves, tickets in hand, walking up the steps at symphony hall or the opera house, ready and hoping to be moved by something grown up and surpassingly lovely."
As for the singer/songwriter moniker, and its meaning to her, songwriter Werner says:
"There comes a time when a singer/songwriter has to earn the 'singer' part of that title. Hopefully, I did that with this project!"