Susan Werner returns to her roots!!!

June 24, 2011

 Friend of this blog Susan Werner is one of the most chameleon-like performers working today.  Her recent albums have spanned genres of American Songbook, rock reinterpretation, and agnostic evangelism.  What has remained consistent is her fierce intelligence, immense talent, and impeccable open-hearted interpretation.

Her latest CD, Kicking the Beehive, puts us back to her activist folk roots with a stunning collection of songs that put a human face on issues including same-sex relations, abortion, and coping with terminal illness.  But she leavens it all with wry humor and terrific musicianship.

My favorite song, so far, is The Last Words of Bonnie Parker, a lovely ballad examining the complications of relationships and ambitions.

And how can you not love this lyric from her song Irrelevance (a sort of sequel to her previous Movie of My Life):

And I’m sure there’s a “gift” in this somewhere

A gift wrapped in dread and denial

Yes I’m sure there’s a gift in there somewhere

It’s so hard to accept it.

I hope someone saved the receipt

Here’s the track list for the CD:

  • Kicking the Beehive
  • Doctor Doctor
  • My Different Son
  • I Know What I Want
  • The Last Words of Bonnie Parker
  • Manhattan, Kansas
  • Red Dress
  • Botanical Greenery Blues
  • Sleeping On A Train
  • Irrelevance
  • On The Other Side 

Great interview with Susan Werner

December 19, 2009

It’s always a treat to get to watch Susan Werner.  And her observations about singing in another language are some of the most insightful I’ve heard.

Classic Rock with Susan Werner

April 18, 2009

SUSAN WERNER: ClassicsReaders of this blog know that I revere Susan Werner and am awestruck by her talent as a performer and a writer.  Plus I am extremely grateful for the terrific interview she did for this blog.

In Werner’s latest project, Classics, she has taken a number of classic 60’s & 70’s rock songs, and is performing them in string quartet arrangements.  As the publicity for the CD says, “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.”

All the tracks are musically adept, well thought through, and beautifully and intelligently performed.   

So I am assuming that the fact that this recording leaves me totally cold has more to do with me than Werner’s work.  It seems to me that it takes a lot of talent to take this broad selection of disparate material and push them through a filter so they seem to have an amazing sameness.  And as with Jim Van Slyke’s Sedaka show, it could be that since I don’t have an inherent appreciation of the source material, I may be missing much of the brilliance of Werner’s work. 

This did strike me, though, as great dinner party music. 

1 Lonely People
2 Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
3 The Wind
4 Waiting In Vain
5 A Hazy Shade of Winter
6 Turn Turn Turn
7 All In Love Is Fair
8 Maybe I’m Amazed
9 Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
10 I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times

Marianne Glass Miller on Susan Werner

March 31, 2009

Choices, choices!  Ron and I decided to see In Full Light at Germano’s Friday night.  Thankfully for all of us, Marianne Glass Miller was at Susan Werner’s concert at WolfTrap and filed this report:

I’m a big Susan Werner fan, as some of you may know.  And, as much as I love her CD’s, from the folk rock of Last of the Good Straight Girls to the neo-Great American Songbook style of I Can’t Be New, they pale in comparison with her live performances.  Onstage, she is utterly relaxed, engaging, and very funny (think wry wit), but what draws me back to her live concerts is how in command she is of her musical gifts.

Her concert at the Barns at Wolf Trap last Friday night was a treat.  Werner launched into her show with “Hey Hey” (I believe this is a brand new song), then straight into a mini-set of tunes from The Gospel Truth, her 2007 album described by critics as “agnostic gospel” (and by Werner herself as “secular hell-bound material”).   She was accompanied by her excellent percussionist, Trina Hamlin, and by a new bass player, Julia Biber.  At first, there was something a bit tentative about Biber’s playing and I was missing Werner’s long-time bass player, Greg Holt.  Later, it became clear why Biber was part of the band.  Werner has just released a new CD called Classics in which she covers pop songs from the 60’s and 70’s with arrangements for string quartet and classical instruments.  During the last portion of the show when Werner showcased several of these new songs, Biber’s playing lost its tentativeness and her accompaniment was rich and beautiful.  There was even a funny bit in which Biber mimicked other classical cellists’ playing styles and facial expressions, including Yo-Yo Ma’s.

Werner’s voice is rich and supple, and she uses it to best serve her material, whether it’s the smooth lounge style of “I Can’t Be New” or the sardonic folk sensibility of “Probably Not.”  She is equally masterful on guitar and piano.  Her songs encompass so many different musical styles, it would be limiting to call her a cabaret or folk singer.  I think she is truly a great musical communicator.  Don’t miss her the next time she’s in town.

Here’s the set list:

  • Hey Hey
  • Why Is Your Heaven So Small
  • Thy Kingdom Come
  • Sunday Mornings
  • Did Trouble Me
  • Probably Not
  • Time Between Trains
  • Give Me Chicago Any Day
  • I Can’t Be New
  • May I Suggest
  • The Movie of My Life
  • Lonely People
  • Mercy Me
  • I Listen to the Wind
  • Hazy Shade of Winter
  • Help Somebody

What are you doing New Year’s ???

January 2, 2009

I hope everyone is primed for a great 2009.  The project that I am determined to accomplish in 2009 is to digitize various content at home.  What this means is that I want to get the 400ish CDs into iTunes that we don’t already have loaded, digitize material from LPs and cassettes that haven’t been issued onto CDs, and scan the sheet music collection.  I’ve also got a couple songs in the pipeline — including Playbill and Madeleine — and I am working on writing a new English translation for an Edith Piaf song.

Now I know a couple of people out there are planning shows, but I’m sure we’d all love to hear what’s on everybody’s “to do” list.  So please comment freely.

And once again, as the Susan Werner song (now being beautifully performed around town by Terri Allen) says, “may I suggest this is the best time of your lives.”

Susan Werner at St. Mark’s

June 19, 2008

The amazing Susan Werner plays St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill Friday night.

Her program: The Gospel Truth: A Collection of Songs for the Spiritually Ambivalent plays as part of the church’s 30-20-10 celebration.  Go figure.

Read the interview she kindly did for this blog

Susan Werner Live at Club Passim

May 27, 2008

Susan Werner, cabaret’s favorite folksinger*, has just released a new CD Live at Club Passim. A live recording of a recent concert, the CD is a terrific mix of susan Werner’s different periods — Midwestern folk singer, retro cabaret writer, and evangelical agnostic.  For those of us who’ve listened to the studio CDs a lot, it’s also refresheing to hear her looser live renditions and her brilliantly funny patter.  Also the work of her harmonica player Trina Hamlin is exceptional. 

Her schedule has her appearing at the Avalon Theater in Easton, Maryland and St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill next month, and I’ll post info when I get it.

Here are the tracks on the CD:

1   Time Between Trains
2   Lost My Religion
3   Did Trouble Me
4   After All Of This
5   Intro to Our Father
6   Our Father (The New, Revised Edition)
7   Chicago Any Day
8   Barbed Wire Boys
9   I Can’t Be New
10   Movie Of My Life
11   May I Suggest
12   Help Somebody
13   Together

*What other folk singer plays the Bradstan, for heaven’s sake?

The Problematic Miss Buckley

February 7, 2008

I tend to go back and forth on Betty Buckley’s recorded work.  I tend to like her live performances, but generally find her studio work highly problematic.  Her new album, Quintessence, falls into the trouble column.

I wish I liked this CD.  I would praise Buckley’s choice of material, but her idiosyncratic performances with overwrought orchestrations by longtime music director Kenny Werner makes me question why she chose the songs in the first place.  Most are rendered melodically unrecognizable and any chance of storytelling is generally ruined in favor of questionable vocal effects.

In this setting, the medley of Blame It On My Youth/I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face seems almost revelatory since Buckley actually delivers coherent thoughts.  Anyone Can Whistle also comes through relatively unscathed, and the medley of Dindi/How Insenstive is a brilliant idea that I hope another performer will bring to full potential.

I hate being this negative about a performer who can be so thrilling in live performance.  Buckly fans — please feel free to comment and tell me how wrong, wrong, wrong, I am. 

1. So Many Stars
2. The Surrey With the Fringe on Top
3. Like a Lover
4. Stardust
5. Cry Me a River
6. Dindi/How Insensitive
7. No One is Alone
8. Anyone Can Whistle
9. Blame it on My Youth/I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face
10. Something’s Coming
11. The Man I Used to Love*
12. Get Here
*Even Buckley is jumping on the Susan Werner bandwagon.

Now Available: The Gospel Truth Songbook

December 19, 2007

Good news* for Susan Werner fans.  She has made a songbook available of the material from her latest CD, The Gospel Truth (perfect for all those Unitarian guitar services).

On the positive side, the songbook is instantly available from her Web site as a pdf.  On the down side, most of the songs are arranged for guitar players, simply with chords above a lyric line, although a couple are charted out as lead sheets.


(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small


Help Somebody




Did Trouble Me


Sunday Morning


Our Father (The New, Revised Edition)


Lost My Religion


Don’t Explain It Away


I Will Have My Portion


Probably Not



*Pun fully intended.  Sorry.

Calendar: December 2007 – February 2008

December 13, 2007

December 2007 

  • Wednesday, 8:30pm – 12/12 December Divas (Signature Theater)
  • Thursday, 8:30pm – 12/13 December Divas (Signature Theater)
  • Friday, 7:00pm & 9:00pm  – 12/14 December Divas (Signature Theater)
  • Saturday, 7:00pm & 9:00pm – 12/15 December Divas (Signature Theater)
  • Saturday, 9:00pm, 12/15 — Holiday Classics (Atlas/INDIGO)
  • Friday, 9:00pm, 12/21 — Holiday Classics (Atlas/INDIGO)
  • Saturday, 8:30pm – 12/29  Doug Bowles and the Washington Conservatory Jazz Ensemble  32 Bars in One Night (Atlas/INDIGO)  

January 2008 

  • Sunday, 7:30pm — 1/13 Melissa Manchester (Barns of Wolf Trap)
  • Friday, 1/18 — Scott Bakula An Evening with Scott Bakula (Ford’s Theater)
  • Saturday, 6:30pm, 1/19 — Beverly Cosham (Reston Community Orchestra)
  • Thursday, 8:00pm, 1/24 — Faith Prince (Barns of Wolf Trap)
  • Saturday, 7:30pm, 1/26 — John Eaton (Barns of Wolf Trap)
  • Saturday, 7:30pm, 1/26 — Susan Werner (Birchmere)
  • Thursday, 8:00pm, 1/31 — Maureen McGovern (Barns of Wolf Trap) 

February 2008

  • Friday, 8:00pm, 2/1 — Primary Urges (Writer’s Center, Bethesda) 
  • Friday, 8:00pm, 2/1 — Michael Sazonov My Well Schooled Heart (Maggie’s Place / St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church)
  • Friday, 8:00pm, 2/1 — Maureen McGovern (Barns of Wolf Trap)
  • Saturday, 8:00pm, 2/2 — Cabaret Benefit (River Road Unitarian Church)
  • Sunday, 3:00pm, Primary Urges (Writer’s Center, Bethesda)
  • Saturday, 8:00pm, 2/9 — Beverly Cosham with the  McLean Symphony (Alden Theater)
  • Friday, 2/15 — Jennifer Blades My Funny Valentine (An Die Musik)
  • Saturday, 2/16 — Sally Martin (Corner Store)
  • Friday, 2/22 — Jennifer Blades My Funny Valentine (An Die Musik)
  • Saturday, 2/23 — Beverly Cosham (Atlas/INDIGO)
  • Saturday, 2/23, 7:30pm – Christine Lavin (Birchmere)
  • Thursday, 7:30pm, 2/28 — Diane Schuur (Birchemere)

And don’t forget Blake Place at the Flaming Pit!