Remembrances of Great Concerts Past: Rumer in Pasadena

The first time I heard of Rumer was from my pal the late great P.F. Sloan, who was absolutely thrilled she was singing his songs, and Jimmy Webb’s famous song about him, “P.F. Sloan.” He must have said the name Rumer twenty times before there was a chance to ask, “Who is Rumer?”

Then I learned.

The last time I saw Rumer was a couple years ago in Hollywood at the famed Capitol Records studio, where she was recording with one of the great producer-musicians of our time, her husband Rob Shirakbari. Rob is a brilliant pianist, who was Bacharach’s music director for years, and, as such, an esteemed Bacharach scholar. On this night they were recording a glorious album, This Girl’s In Love With You, a collection of all Bacharach songs.

Rumer, as is written in the following review, is a song champion. In that when she sings a great song, she sings the melody – as it was written – which honors the song and the songwriter. This is especially important when it comes to the sophisticated melodies of Bacharach. Just to sing a song like “Alfie,” in which a melodic cadence can end up a ninth, requires a singer to have an ear, and a voice, like Ella Fitzgerald. So just hearing and then hitting one of those notes is tough for most singing humans. To do it with grace and soul, like Dionne Warwick did, that requires great talent, artistry and an open heart. That’s where Rumer lives.

She also has a great love and appreciation of modern standards, those songs which came out of the singer-songwriter generation of the 60s, 70s and beyond.

Bacharach. although he emerged in the same era, wrote songs which sounded like standards from the start, as they were influenced much more by the standards of the past and symphonic music than rock & roll. Rumer has a way of inhabiting those melodies as if they were written for her voice.

On this night she and Rob had a special guest in the studio, the maestro himself, Burt Bacharach. Bacharach was not there just to listen. He came to contribute.

That Bacharach would do this is evidence of his esteem for Rumer. He knew she was one of the few singers of our time who would not only do justice to his songs, and sing the right notes, but would make them live again. He also knew that with Rob producing, the music would be elegant and right. And all the chords would be correct.

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Bacharach was there to perform a short but very poignant passage of “This Guy’s In Love With You” solo, rubato, singing and playing the giant Steinway grand at the same time. He took several takes of it before he and Rob felt it was finished.

It wasn’t clear where this passage would be used on the album, and how it would be connected. Listening now, it is absolutely perfect. It’s the introduction to the song, which starts off in this free time, and falls beautifully into the groove before Rumer’s voice pours like honey into this timeless melody. It doesn’t get better. These three together, Burt, Rob & Rumer – that is a whole lot of musical greatness in one room.

That album came out in the autumn of 2016. In the Spring of that same year Rumer and Rob performed an intimate, beautiful show at the South Pasadena library, which has a beautiful grand piano. Rob played that, leading a four piece band, and with special guest star Neil Rosengarden, who played trumpet on “Alfie.” Rumer entranced us all. What follows is our review of that show.

Rumer. Photo by Alan Messer.

Rumer at the South Pasadena Library
March 26, 2016.

Transcendence. There is noise, and there is music. And then there is music which lifts the soul, and transports us to some other realm. And that is where Rumer resides. She sings with such and reverence for song that she carries her listeners on a lucky journey of spirit. Vocal histrionics is not in her quiver; she sings with great allegiance for the melody and lyric as written, so that when she sings Bacharach and David’s “Alfie,” for example, we hear the songwriter’s soul, and we thrill at the greatness of miracle song.

“When I sing,” she said once, “I don’t want people to think about the singer. I want them to think about the song.” And that is exactly the result. Which is why, as many others have noted, she is one of the greatest vocalists making music today, and a singer who honors the songwriter with every song.

With a four-piece band featuring her husband, the astounding Rob Shirakbari on piano, Troy Dexter on guitar, Hollye Dexter on back-up vocals and Jon Button on bass, Rumer led us through a beautifully tender cycle of songs, including some of her own gems, and some by other songwriters brought to new life with clarity and passion.

Here in this space where the memorial for our friend P.F. Sloan was held, she delivered Jimmy Webb’s stunning elegy for his absent friend, “P.F. Sloan” with such purity that every word came across like starlight on a clear night.

She’s a gifted and inspired songwriter; her song “Aretha,” a testament of love for great song and singing, resounds like a standard and perfect tribute to the Queen of Soul. “Thankful” is a prayer of thanks for the world we’re in, set to a melody so poignant that the gratitude within is beautifully projected.

In the midst of recording an entire album of Bacharach and David songs (for which music lovers will be thankful forever), she brought us perhaps their most stunning song, “Alfie,” as only a great singer could, punctuated by beautiful muted trumpet by Neil Rosengarden.   

She ended the entire show with another Bacharach-David song, “What The World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love)” delivered like a prayer, showing us new contours of this famous song, deepened by invocation.

This is greatness. In her concerts and her records, Rumer has shown us time and time again that those songs written in the 60s and 70s – songs by Bacharach & David, Jimmy Webb, Stephen Bishop, Paul Simon and others, are standards that do deserve to stand by the standards of the previous generation, those that constitute the Great American Songbook.

Rumer and Rob are busy writing the sequel to that collection. With all lovers of great song, here’s hoping they never stop.

Long live Rumer, long live song, long live love.

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