Talkin' Broadway review by Rob Lester

A 27-track collection of almost exclusively previously unreleased material-mostly demos-from his teenage years to last year, paint not just a revealing portrait of composer-lyricist Brian Gari, but of changing musical styles as well. To quote the earliest song title, with two included versions, there's a "Bright Spectrum of Colors." We get bouncy pop-rock, more thoughtful storytelling folky stuff, sly comedy, ballads, and then nostalgia for that bouncy pop-rock we began with ("If Our Songs Can't Make It" and "Where Did the Music Go?" recorded by the group The Tokens). While the former is a bit of a self-pity trip (with Tokens-specific tweaks at their request), the latter is a very satisfying longing for-and evocation of-pop sounds of the 1960s like the heyday of the good vibrations of The Beach Boys. (Practicing what he preaches, Gari took a break from theatre scores and pop songs to do a tribute album to them and has been involved in other work related to that group.)

While there's nothing representing his scores to A Hard Time to Be Single or Love Online, which have their own albums, there is a cut song from his Broadway show Late Nite Comic (whose score has been recorded twice; all these albums, like this one and his earlier studio outings, are on Original Cast Records). That lively cut song features him with Broadway's Karen Ziemba and is a highlight. They have good chemistry and it's a good fit for the dancer-singer to take on this one, recorded two summers ago, titled "She Dances Anywhere She Can." It is imbued with affection for that "she," and, by extension, anyone in love with being able to dance. (The plot of this 1987 musical involved the relationship of a struggling comic and his ladylove, a dancer.)

One of the few previously released titles is "I Live in L.A.," sung by Kaye Ballard, neatly mocking the trendy lifestyle there, which she nails in her adorably comic way. While his funny side is not his most-seen style, the writer does have a flair for it. It's also demonstrated by the late Arthur Siegel (a theatre writer himself and Miss Ballard's longtime musical director), who sings the grandly goofy "I Sang the Blues for Nothing" as a guy who was bemoaning his gal leaving him, until he realized-oops!-she was just in the next room, which he would have known had he been observant. All those wasted tears! But there are plenty of real tears and troubles elsewhere as many of the pop ballads look at love matches, quite often the doomed kind, going back to Brian Gari the high school tunesmith. He got a few numbers recorded, but not released, by a group in 1970 called The Great Train Robbery.

Although images of someone weeping over bathwater being drawn because he knows it's the last bath his departing lover will take in his home make another kind of waterworks flow in what amounts to a kind of awkward soap opera, there's potential and craft glimmering in the early break-up numbers. And nice word play is evident in looking back at friends' pairings fizzling out with the title "A Couple of Couples Ago." Having just read the year's giant best-selling book ("soon to be a major motion picture"), 1970's "Love Story," young Brian was inspired to write about its protagonist in "Jenny," whose weeping lyric talks about her husband holding her for what he knows will be the last time. Pass the Kleenex. But it's age-appropriate sweet, and Bob Esty (later a music biggie) sang it with heart on the demo. There's also very strong singing from Don Ciccone on an all-stops-out ardent "The Non-Affair Affair" and Andrea Marcovicci sounds elegantly lovely in a very early demo recording along with duet partner/accompanist Gari, "The Guessing Game."

Like the song maturity quality (blame it on his youth), the sound quality varies, too. Some is rather murky, some has more advanced/sophisticated recording equipment and production and more involved interpretations. In the liner notes, the writer admits to not being enthusiastic about setting to music a number pitched as the title song to the movie version of Jacqueline Susann's novel "Once Is Not Enough." Family friend Coleman Cohen's lyric is not very literary or concise, but some may have said the same for the book. Lesley Miller gives it a reasonable try. The one other collaboration is far more rewarding; musical theatre/movie composer David Shire was his partner for "He's Not Home Yet" and it's a nicely adult torch song of diminishing hopes, well performed with calibrated emotion by Tammy Quinn.

Saundra Messinger is heard on three appealing tracks, including "The Real Me," which is even more poignant in the songwriter's own version, one of two bonus tracks. The other is "Can It Be This Good?" which is also presented in a sublimely tender version by the ultimate in classy singer-pianists, Steve Ross. This moving hesitation to believe something that's too happy to be true was the wedding song of Mr. and Mrs. Brian Gari a few years ago and deserves wider recognition. Like "The Real Me," it's one of his very, very best.

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