INTERVIEW: Mary Testa & Michael Starobin on Have Faith

Music often meets us right where we are in life. No matter your faith background, you have to admit that the gods that be have a hand in everything we do.

Recently, I attended Oklahoma! on Broadway. The show’s Aunt Eller, Mary Testa, took me aback. Her voice struck a chord in me that I cannot shake. My initial thought on hearing her Tony-nominated performance was, “I hope she has an album.”

Mart Testa and Michael Starobin, Have Faith

And to my excitement, she does, in collaboration with Michael Starobin. I’m telling you, the Gods know what they are doing.

Michael Starobin, a Tony-winning orchestrator, provides all the arrangements for Have Faith. He seamlessly gives each song an utterly new facade while preserving its original integrity.

What truly makes this album genius is Testa’s interpretation of each song and Starobin’s combination of classical orchestral techniques mixed with technology. Although Testa did not write these songs herself, she acts as the songwriter as her voice completely rewrites each composition. Mixed with Starobin’s exquisite arrangements makes for a record that is just as relevant in 2019 as it did five years ago when it was recorded.

Have Faith is a masterpiece that cannot be placed into words; it demands to be sung. Many styles of music are touched as Testa lends her voice to Aerosmith’s “Pink,” Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April,” and a Bjork/ Rodgers and Hammerstein mash up. Through these pieces, Testa and Starobin tackle dozens of subjects from cultural contradictions, to love and spirituality. This album doesn’t just dare to go there; it’s already come and gone.

I had the extreme pleasure to speak with both Testa and Starobin about Have Faith, its striking innovation, and how their ideas collided to create a musical monument.


  1. 1. Have Faith is a cohesive album that addresses a distinct set of themes. How did this album come about?

Mr. Starobin: The thing to remember is that Have Faith was not conceived as a recording first. It was conceived as a live show. Mary and I had done a show together soon after we first met in the early eighties. Around 2000, we said, “Let’s do something again.” We slowly started pulling a piece together, and it was about a woman getting through the night, questioning her faith. We did it as a staged performance with costumes and props.

Michael John’s “What If” at the beginning of Have Faith is about all the things that she’s afraid of. That was written for that show, and it captures the fear and fright of the woman before she goes through this journey. In a way, this is a cast album.

Mary Testa: This album came about over a long period of time. We were always trying to musicalize a completely sung-through story, using different songs to create a narrative. We had done another show called Sleepless Variations at Barrington Stage at least ten years ago. Some of the songs on this album are from that show.

Michael wanted to do it all electronically. The stage version was just his computer, piano, and cello. We purposely tried to put together something that resonated and was different. Sleepless Variations was about the way your mind works when you can’t sleep. Some of these songs made it onto Have Faith, and it became a whole new narrative.

We love to smash into something. You know, be really funny and then smash into something serious. We’ve always done that. Like going from “Pink” to “Sometimes It Snows In April.” You are having a great day, and then somebody will fucking die.

  1. This album was recorded nearly five years ago, yet it’s incredibly relevant today. How does this album speak to the state of the world now?

Mary Testa and Michael Starobin, 54 BelowMs. Testa: The title is very apt. It’s about finding out who you are, and against all the odds, know that life will throw stuff at you when you least expect it. It ‘s about having faith in yourself to make it through to the end and be grateful. Those are themes that will always resonate, because that’s the human condition, in a way. I think now is a very trying time. It was trying five years ago, but more so now. We had a beautiful president at that time.

The state of the world today is even more dire. Knowledge comes from within. It’s like a microcosm of a macrocosm.

If you don’t believe in yourself and have a spirituality about trying to lift the consciousness of the world, then you’re lost. You have to begin with yourself. I think that’s why it will always resonate, or at least I hope that’s why it will always resonate.

  1. From a composition standpoint, what is the common thread through each of these pieces? How did you place these songs, which are worlds apart, together?

Mr. Starobin: We were harking back to when music was albums. You sat and listened to all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club because it was a journey. A lot of people made albums like that, and that’s been very much abandoned nowadays. We were looking to do something in the old-fashioned way of an album being a single conceptual endeavor.

The use of electronics and sequencing was done because this was originally a live performance. Numbers like “Change” and “Heroes” had to be rhythm numbers, and that wasn’t going to work with me just sitting at the piano. I thought, “Let me sequence these and run them off of a QLab.” It provided this energetic rhythm section feel for a couple of numbers.

So you’re doing this big electronic groove thing that’s loud, and in the middle of it, the tuba will start playing. The idea was to make these sharp turns in orchestration sound.

We wanted to create transitions where we’re doing one song, and you suddenly find yourself in another song without an introduction, without being prepared. You think you’re still in the old song, and suddenly, a lyric comes at you, and you go, “Oh wait, I’m someplace else.”

That transition surprise is the kind of jump-cut editing they do in film. You’re suddenly standing there in the middle of the next scene, and a transition hasn’t been provided. Your brain is suddenly spinning. “Oh, oh, where am I? Oh, oh, okay. I’m here now.” It was an attempt to do that musically.

Mary Testa: Everything on this album is deliberate. The “Lost” and “Over The Rainbow” mash up speaks to me about where we are now. We need as a species to get back to that “Over The Rainbow” optimism. Because we are lost I think, spiritually and soul wise…these are deliberate mash ups, not just musically, but idea wise.

  1. This album touches spirituality in many ways. Can you speak to that?

Mary Testa: I grew up as a Catholic. I went to Catholic school. I saw great hypocrisy from a very early age with the Catholic religion. I am not a practicing Catholic in any way, shape, or form, but I’m an extremely spiritual person. I’ve seen evidence of spirituality all around me and within me.

I prefer to be a spiritual person because I want to believe there’s a greater power than just us. I try and lead a life that is connected to that higher power, so I have no problem making it evident in my work.

  1. What were the difficulties, but yet similarities, to combining both the classical orchestral approach while embracing the technology?

Mary Testa and Michael Starobin, Barnes and NobleMr. Starobin: It wasn’t a difficulty at all because it’ssomething I’ve spent my entire life doing in the theater, using the synthesizer as part of an orchestral sound…

In “Lost,” I play along with the piano, but there are other times where we just let the track play. It’s a lot of fun because it brings a much wider dynamic range to the evening. It’s not only fun to jump in when the electronics come in; it’s also fun when it comes down. When you perform transitions like “Pink” to “Sometimes It Snows In April,” where you go from a loud volume to soft, I try to quietly start playing the introduction to “Sometimes It Snows in April” underneath “Pink” while it’s still loud. So it’s like, “What is he doing? What’s going on there?” I don’t try to overcome it. I don’t wait until it’s clear. I try to do it underneath the loudness. It is revealed by the music fading. It is a lot of fun to use the dynamics of pre-recorded electronics and then switch to live accompaniment and make use of the difference in energy between the two.

  1. Ms. Testa, your voice is piercing and bold, but it’s also vulnerable and empathetic. “Hallelujah” will have you in tears, while in “Heroes” you sing boldly of cultural inconsistencies. When you are preparing songs like these, what is your creative process?

Ms. Testa: I am blessed with the ability to sing a wide range of songs…I go with what the music calls for. It’s a visceral reaction. Because I can do a wide range of things, like musical theater, I can also do rock, and I can do jazz. I can do a lot of different things. Musically I adapt. Then, as an actor, I take whatever I’m singing and apply what I think is the proper feeling behind it.

  1. I read where you moved to NYC to solely be an actress, and musical theater just happened. What is your musical training?

Ms. Testa: I trained vocally for six years when I first moved to NYC. I trained with an opera teacher. I also went to Mannes College when I first moved here but never completed anything because that’s just how I am. I pick things up very fast. I don’t really read music, but I pick up stuff fast…My training has been experience.

  1. Can we expect any new music in the future?

Mary Testa and Michael Starobin, Barnes and NobleMs. Testa: Michael and I are very busy. He’s an orchestrator and doing a million things at once. We don’t have any fresh ideas right now. I’m sure at some point in the future we’ll come together and do something. We enjoy working together and collaborating. We don’t have any burning ideas right now. I’m sort of void of ideas. I think I’m exhausted, so I don’t really have any (laughs).

I don’t plan things out; I go with what comes my way. Right now, I’m doing eight shows a week. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m sure something will be next. Something’s always next.

  1. Last question. Pick one song. Why did you choose it, and what is its story?

Mr. Starobin: If I had to pick one, I’d pick “Lost,” which was a song Mary picked out, just because I find it beautiful. It’s where we combine electronics and live playing. We use a little bit of a Bach cello suite to introduce the song, and then the cello plays a big role within the song.

Ms. Testa: I love “Heroes.” Although I love everything on the album, it’s all purposefully selected. I’m often asked, especially during Tony season, “Who are the people that mentored you? Who are the people that inspire you?”

I’m inspired by everybody. I’m inspired by great performances, but I don’t have any heroes. I find that if you have a hero, you’re bound to be disappointed in them. There are people that I’ve admired, and then I meet them, and they’re jerks. The song “Heroes” is great because the lyrics are very funny, but it’s also really smart and serious. All of these people that we revere were jerks. (laughs)

Bonus: Dang, I was hoping somebody would say, “Sometimes It Snows In April.”

Ms. Testa: I can talk about that one! I’m a huge Prince fan. I miss him dearly. I cannot believe he was taken off this Earth. “Sometimes it Snows in April” always made me cry. I think it’s a beautiful song. I love Michael’s arrangement. I think of a particular friend of mine whenever I sing it. I’d like to do a Prince album of all my favorite Prince songs. I’d like to do a Prince show. I’d also like to do a Frank Zappa show…


In the end, Testa and Starobin weave a vivid image of struggles and triumph with Have Faith, while having a conversation we need now. Through each composition, Testa creates a bold narrative that allows room for fault but requires one to keep looking forward. Starobin’s arrangements give this album an identity that holds the record together as a unit while opening your mind to ideas you may have never seen. Together they created an album that pushes boundaries, socially, musically, and spiritually.

Every listener is granted permission to interpret music, both in its composition and lyrical content. The artists are the facilitator in leading the conversation, but it takes a rather unique voice to lend advice at the same time. That’s where Have Faith will leave you. It listens like an old friend while giving you a pertinent message. The message can change with each listen, but it will always remain profound.

As a simple listener, I am forever grateful I heard this album. As a music connoisseur, this album leaves me speechless. I’ve taken away many messages from Have Faith, but I’d love to leave you with the one I find most important and universal to every human (And yes, Testa approves).

Life is hard and often ridiculous, but nobody makes it out alive. Be kind, fight injustice, and love one another.


Purchase Have Faith at Ghostlight Records.



Connect with Mary Testa:

Connect with Michael Starobin:

INTERVIEW: Eden Espinosa on Revelation, A Lethal Combination

Sometimes you don’t know where to begin with an album.

Eden Espinosa’s latest release, Revelation, causes just that problem. You see, each song is distinctly different, yet each one seamlessly flows with the next.

The album’s ten tracks converse with themselves. Every time I listen to this album in its entirety, I walk away with a different favorite song. Although once I start thinking of a particular song my mind links the piece to another song.

Revelation is built upon fear, vulnerability, and self-acceptance. Out of the record’s ten tracks, Espinosa wrote 8. She quickly proved that she has a distinct talent for crafting a lyric and to my surprise, these are the first songs she wrote.

So this album has tricked me and left me in quite the quarry. There was only one solution. I had to talk with Ms. Espinosa and have her explain this masterpiece.


This album is a vast departure from the style of your previous record, and very different than the form you use on stage. What inspired this style shift for you?

I’ve always had the desire to write songs. I was too afraid, to be honest. I was just afraid to try it and put myself out there. I heard an album of a friend of mine, and I just loved the production, and I loved the way it sounded. I asked her who produced it, and she put me in touch with the producer. I was talking to him about doing my second album, which I was planning to do like my first one, which was musical theater songs taken out of context to make them sound as if they were on the radio if you will.

Blaine Stark, the producer, is not from the theater world at all. He asked me, why don’t you do an album of originals? I said I’ve always wanted to and I have a lot of content written down. They’re not necessarily songs, but I do write a lot. He said why don’t you try writing and see what comes out of you and see if you like it. So that’s how I got started.

I contacted a few friends of mine who I know to be amazing songwriters and who I know would create a safe space for me to share my thoughts and my feelings. I just started dipping my toe into this art form.

That’s how this album came about. It was a beautiful collaboration with the producer Blaine and I and the songwriters and me too.


What is the inspiration behind Revelation? I feel like it is a break-up album mixed with self-discovery.

Yeah. I think that this is a little bit of both even though some of the songs that sound like they’re about a man, a significant other, or a breakup, are actually about fear. You know, that negative side of your mind or personality — that self-sabotaging place, which I’ve struggled with a whole lot.

I did go through some heartache recently, so some of the songs are coming from that place. I know that “Deadly Sin” originally was written about that dark fear, self-sabotaging place. I wrote “Master of my Life” about fear and taking control…That one’s about fear just trying to take over, and then you reclaiming your power.

Some of them can be taken as love songs or break up songs, but a lot of them are about me and breaking up with the negative habits or negative voices in my mind. It is indeed both; it’s a lot of layers I guess.


The songs flow flawlessly. What can you say about the order of the songs? 

The order was super important to me, and I actually left that to Blaine. I felt I was too close to the songs and a lot of them had been written a while ago. I had kind of moved past where I was when I wrote the songs, and it was hard for me to be objective because I started to judge the material, you know what I mean?

I started to be like, “This song is dumb.” There were so many times that I wanted to cut several songs that I had written long ago and I didn’t feel that way anymore. So I told Blaine I need you to do the order. I made one change to the order that he originally made and then “Fireworks and Stars” was a very last minute song. We added it on the very last day of recording.

So that was an afterthought. It was the most recent song I wrote, and it is from a completely different perspective than the rest of the album. But we knew that once I wrote it and once I heard what was going to be done with it, we knew that we wanted it to be the last song.


What are the messages you want to convey with Revelation? What message do you want listeners to walk away with?

Over the past few years and just personally in my life and then in writing this album there were several revelations. I knew I wanted the title of it to be a word encompassing the entire journey not only artistically, but emotionally and spiritually. I think the big revelation that I want people to have and be left with is that you are the most important thing and not in a selfish way. You have to take care of yourself and not lose yourself or choose somebody else to know your worth…We can’t completely give to somebody else until you know that you are a king or queen, you know.

I think it’s about self-worth. I want people to leave with finding their self-worth and their self-value and not to compromise that for anything or anyone.


Why did it take seven years between your two albums?

It had to do a lot with personal stuff… and fortunately, I kept getting work. A lot of people in my position who started in theater and musical theater – once they start writing songs, think I want to be a singer/songwriter now, and I want this is my music, they’ll decide to leave musical theater for a while and take a break and pursue music. I always wanted to do both equally.

I wasn’t in the position to turn down work to just focus on the album. And so it had to be done in little spurts. It took way longer than I anticipated but in hindsight looking back I didn’t know that it was supposed to be that way for me to find the strength, the freedom and the courage to write and to share with people my point of view and my perspective and my feelings.


And here’s a few just for fun…

If you could collaborate with anybody musically who would it be?

It’d probably be Jeff Buckley, who’s no longer with us, or Eva Cassidy.

When you are in the studio, or you are performing what are your necessities?

I’m very big into lighting. If it’s not the right lighting, it’s going to affect my mood. I like candles, and in a dressing room, I need my essential oil diffuser or a humidifier.

Which Spice Girl would you be and why?

I’d be Scary or Sporty. I just liked their attitudes. I think they were both fun, but confident. They both stuck out to me. It is a tie between Scary or Sporty; Scary’s style but Sporty’s voice.


As I looked over the transcript of this interview and listened to Revelation again, I realized why I am at such a loss for words.

Revelation lives and breathes. It may sound strange, but Espinosa’s vocal stylings mixed with her vulnerability are simply relevant. No matter your situation in life, this album can, and will, speak to you. Espinosa is a real singer who can hit any high note, yet she is also a real artist who can dig into emotions you didn’t even know you had. That’s a lethal combination for any listener.


Connect with eden espinosa
   

ALBUM REVIEW: BeBe Neuwirth, Porcelain

l have fallen in love with the story song. It’s an avenue I’ve always liked, but I had never heard a story song sung by BeBe Neuwirth before till recently. There are not many words that describe her talent, besides genius and brilliant. Her 2011 album Porcelain leaves everything on the table. Nobody tells a story as complete as Ms. Neuwirth.

Now many of us know Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin Crane from Cheers and Fraser and for her show-stopping performances on Broadway. Since moving to New York, I have tried to immerse myself in Broadway performers, so once I found out Neuwirth was a Tony winner, I prayed for solo work.

I quickly found Porcelain and I have had the album in constant rotation since. This record overwhelms me in story, interpretation, and style. Neuwirth cannot simply sing a song, she becomes the song. One cannot see music, but Neuwirth brings each song to near visual life.

With this album Neuwirth, a professionally trained and accomplished dancer uses her dancing techniques through a new channel, her voice. This album opens with “The Bilbao Song.” Each line is met with grace and poise as she tells the story of Bill’s Beer Hall in Bilbao. These elements allude the entirety of the album.

A few tracks later, Neuwirth invites us to the blues, the famous Tom Waits anthem. With “Invitation To The Blues,” Neuwirth is able to massage these lyrics into a new identity. She gives this song brass and vulnerability in this cabaret arrangement. One can feel the dusty hotel room and smell the cigarette smoke.

My personal favorite comes in at track 5. “Mr. Bojangles” is a well-known song done by some of the elites, but like I’ve said before, nobody tells a story like Neuwirth. She takes you on an emotional journey of complete happiness to complete sorrow with a resolve of contentment. Her vocal phrasing nearly brings me to tears as she sings about Mr. Bojangles’ dog passing, yet I smile as she tells the story of his dancing career. This song is one of complete brilliance.

One cannot ignore the Kander and Ebb classics “Ring Them Bells” and “But The World Goes Round.” Each of these songs I knew previously from different artists, but their inertia didn’t hit me the same. Neuwirth tells the story of Shirley Devore with humor to a hoppy piano accompaniment that can only make one smile.

Then there is the passion she gives “But The World Goes Round.” Again, I can feel the kicks in the shins as Neuwirth’s voice whirls around this piece. It’s a big finish and Neuwirth gives her body and soul in this simple arrangement.

This same passion is quietly channeled in another Waits’ classic, “Shiver Me Timbers,” with the final closing of the album “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Again, one can visualize the sand shiftin’ as Neuwirth caresses “Shiver me Timbers.”  All the familiar places come to life in “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Her voice is fragile, as if it can be harmed by a feather, as she bids farewell to a lost lover….or is it her audience?

Neuwirth is divine. That’s the only word I can find to describe her performance on this album. As I mentioned before, one cannot see music. Even as a singer sings, one cannot tangibly grab a note. The closest visual we get to music is from dancers. That’s exactly what Bebe Neuwirth’s voice accomplishes through each story she tells.

INTERVIEW: Donna Lynne Champlin, More Than Paula

It’s not often you discover albums that change the way you listen to music indefinitely. Last year, I was blessed enough to find Paula Cole’s, Ballads, which did just that. Now, nearly 6 months later I have found another album that has done the same, Old Friends, by Donna Lynne Champlin.

To say Old Friends  is magnificent is an understatement. I discovered Champlin while watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW. Her musical numbers within the series took me aback. Once I found out that she had her own solo album I started a journey down a deep hole of musicality I can not find my way out of.

After discovering Old Friends I had to reach out to Champlin and express my gratitude for the music she made. She immediately responded thanking me and pointing me toward her blog she wrote during the making of the album. To say the least, this album has a back story like you’ve never heard. Read her blog here. After reading her blog, to my great surprise (I mean, she’s a big deal), she agreed to let me interview her.

I’ve never heard a backstory to an album like this one. In 2009 Champlin broke her ankle while performing in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot. During her time of recovery, she decided to make an album. This sounds great, but Champlin went about it unconventionally. She decided to make this album on a dare from her brother, on a budget of $1,000. She recorded the album in her apartment, arranged nearly every composition, played all the instruments, and mixed each song. And it sounds like a million bucks.

Did I mention she accomplished this in 6 weeks?


To begin our interview, I had to know about song choice. Old Friends ranges from Civil War Songs (“Hard Times Come Again No More”) all the way to off-Broadway favorites (“Eiffel Tower”), with a tune or two from popular music (“Only Hope,” “When She Loved Me”). Choosing songs was quite the endeavor for Champlin and she had a process.

I started by not editing and writing down a list of all the songs I loved, not necessarily songs I love to sing, just songs I love and turn to when I need to hear something really fulfilling spiritually. It was massive. From there I looked for patterns. I could have done a full album of folk songs and I could have done a full album of Irish material…It was feasible to say I was going to do completely different albums from this list and then I thought about which one of these songs did I literally double over from when I first heard them. That ended up being the playlist.

During our interview, Champlin really focused on how these songs make her double over from emotion. She focused largely on how these songs were cathartic for her. These songs were friends from years past, which is where the title for the album came from.

The album is called Old Friends because I feel like every track I heard for the first time at a moment in my life where I needed to hear that song. I would play that song over and over again and it helped me heal or heightened my awareness to something I needed to pay attention too.


A few years before embarking on this effort, Champlin had shopped around making an album to different labels that specialize in recording Broadway performers. They all told her it would cost her upwards of $30,000. This would also come with the control of producers picking and arranging songs themselves, stripping Champlin of her own artistic prowess, which leads to another inspiration in making this album unconventionally.

The best thing about self-producing is the vocals I use on my album are my true voice. When you are in the musical theater and you are someone who looks like me, you are constantly bending yourself, bending your voice to fit the job they’ve given you. In my case the job was always really loud, brassy, and belty. This is not where I live naturally. It was my chance to relieve my self of that burden. It was my chance to put out into the world that this is me. You can dig it or not dig it, that’s fine.

Old Friends became a process of self-discovery and a vehicle for Champlin to express where she lived artistically. This album goes beyond her vocals in professional endeavors. There are plenty of “brassy” moments, yet she portrays them through her vocal lens. This album was Donna’s turn.


There was a lot to lose, but a lot to gain with this album for Champlin. She is a celebrated performer on Broadway and television. This album was her first step into her own. As it turns out, the album went on to win numerous awards and was even named one of the top 10 vocal albums of 2009, but what exactly did Champlin gain from this album both personally and professionally?

Personally, the act of producing it and creating it with 100% creative control was incredibly empowering and terrifying. As an actor you do feel very powerless…you are at the whim of the agent who submits you for a project and then at the audition you are at the whim of the casting director who will cast you or not…it’s very easy as an actor to feel like a puppet in your own life. It’s easy to forget what your own instincts are and what your own preferences are…I reawakened my own decision making process and it was incredibly empowering…It made me realize that my opinion is valid. It may not be the opinion we end up going with, but just voicing it is very important. I feel more in the process of my own career.


There are many nooks and crannies in this album. What I love most about this album is that it listens like a spiritual. Champlin is able to touch emotions in the ways of a higher power bringing boundless emotion.

I think one of the reasons why this album is successful is because the impetus to do it and the intention behind all of it was…pure, authentic. I had no expectations and I didn’t think I was going to sell any of them. It was an experiment on a dare. I didn’t have anything to lose by doing it authentically. That is the key to anything. If any of your readers are thinking about creating anything to put out into the world, I would only say don’t think about the commercial success of it. Don’t design it to be successful. Design it to be authentic.


Old Friends has made its way onto my permanent playlist. It has surpassed all Vinyl Culture’s expectations and more. It deserves a pressing. Champlin’s vocals are a higher power that rips open your emotions to their highest and lowest. She provides hope in the darkest times and the brightest light in the dark.

This album’s story also proves that being authentic and sincere prevails in the end. If we fabricate who we are our legacy becomes tainted. I’ve learned that through the journey of this album.

As Champlin and I were wrapping up our conversation, she began to take on a different tone. She wasn’t performing, nor was she acting, she began to come to me as a friend.

She left me with some lasting words that have now rung true in my life, and I think they will in yours. It is this project’s pinnacle point and one we can all learn as we go on to create.

If I could say anything to anybody out there thinking of creating their own content is to always, always, come from a place of authenticity. F*ck the commercial success of it. You can’t control that part anyway.


 

CONCERT: Leslie Becker, More Than You Think You’ve Got

I discovered Leslie Becker‘s music last year. Initially, I became hooked on her hit “Slow Burn” and then “Confidential.” I proceeded to visit her Soundcloud and listen to her wide array of songs from pop and country to musical theater. As an added bonus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had written many of these compositions.

Leslie Becker at the W Hotel in Times SquareAlthough I have listened to her songs many times over, I have never seen her live until last Monday. I thought I had a firm grasp on her as an artist and performer and understood the culture she created through her music. I was wrong.

Becker performed at the W Hotel in Times Square. It was a double-header of sorts, for she was going to do a pop-up show at 7:00 strictly with her pop material and then an acoustic set was to begin at 7:30.

The 7:00 pop show was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Becker’s performance. I was mostly familiar with these tunes (“Slow Burn” and “Confidential”). She did not disappoint as her voice permeated the Living Room at the W. It may have been in a small venue, but she performed like it was Madison Square Garden.

Any music fan would have been completely satisfied with the first set, but the second set was really where Becker pushed her music into a new dimension. She started out with some of her more upbeat country songs, “Boy Toy” and “Marlboro Man.” These were great, but when she went into the country ballad “You Blues” I swear I felt my ears move.

Leslie Becker, Live at W Hotel in Times Square
Photos by Liz Maney

“You Blues” is a beautiful country ballad that you could easily hear classic country stars like The Judds, Vince Gill, or Reba McEntire belting. This song enveloped the true essence of country music and put a lot of the new and “bro” country to shame.

Becker then went into a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” This was an ironic part of the show for Becker works with Joe Vulpis, the producer credited for giving Lady Gaga her start in the music industry. Her vocals commanded the lyrics in such a way I almost forgot Becker wasn’t the original artist! She performed this as a duet with Alex Ortega.

The most touching part of the evening was Becker’s homage to her late mother. She explained how her mom had passed away last year unexpectedly. Although her mother passed, she still gave her one more gift. This gift was the song “Love and Such,” a balladesque song with an iron bite.

She closed out the show with more of her country compositions that were reminiscent of true country music and the foundations of rockabilly. She sang a duet with Catherine Porter entitled, “I Cried.” This song was just another that proves Becker just “gets” music.

That evening she also introduced her new single “More Than All You’ve Got.” This song is dance worthy and has a “clapable” beat, but it also gave me a thought on what seeing Becker live is to music listeners. For to truly grasp the artistry of Becker, you must see her live. Becker radiates on recordings, but she dominates the stage. Recordings and video do not give her justice. I’m not discounting her records, they are fashioned to perfection, but they only show one facade of this performer.

As a music fan, she is more than you think you’ve got.

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INTERVIEW: An Accomplished Fire, Leslie Becker

Vinyl and its sound is a culture. As I have gone through collecting vinyl and the many artists that have albums, I have noticed that only certain voices are deserving of this medium.

slowburncoverfrontThis medium only does justice to true performers and musicians. Vinyl has depth and soul that reads artists correctly. Some musicians today haven’t been pressed on vinyl, but are truly deserving of this vinyl culture. One of these artists is Leslie Becker.

On the surface, Becker is a theater extraordinaire. She has a vast resume in musical theater playing roles that are accolades just to play. Once one digs deeper into her career, they quickly discover her songwriting and her many recordings. This performer’s talent does not stop when the spotlight is off. I recently had the chance to sit down with Leslie Becker in New York City to talk about her work and her vast array of talents.

From the moment we sat down, I was taken aback by the warmth of Becker’s personality and her genuine sincerity. I had to begin talking about one of her latest accomplishments, her song “Slow Burn.”

“Slow Burn” is currently sitting at around 20,000 spins and charted at number 4 on Billboards Hot Adult Contemporary chart. It’s video, which I have included at the end of this post, is also under the Grammy’s consideration for best music video. This song was solely written by Becker and produced by Joe Vulpis of AP Music, who is well-known for kick starting Lady Gaga‘s career and his large array of work in the music industry.

Ironically, Becker says that she originally wrote “Slow Burn” for another artist. But when she cut the scratch vocal for the demo, Vulpis was blown away and they decided to make it her debut radio single. She largely credits this song’s appeal to letting her be herself. This seems to be her success factor in many of her musical ventures, and its true vessel is writing.

Becker is an accomplished songwriter whose compositions go across pop, cabaret, musical theater, and country. She often wrote for other artists in the earlier stages of her career and recorded many scratch vocals on her material. It wasn’t long though until somebody noticed that she was not just a scratch vocalist. Her love for songwriting largely opened up through country music.

img_1546Many of her songs can be heard on SoundCloud, but one must brace themselves before they dive in to this musical playground. You will continually be aghast at the range her lyrics and voice can reach. Just when you think you have her figured out, she throws a wrench into the production. Leslie doesn’t fix things that aren’t broken, she just tweaks them to near musical perfection.

Her writing does not stop at just composing music. She is also a librettist with her first show, A Proper Place, opening in Seattle, Washington next year. There isn’t much in the music and theater field that Becker hasn’t ventured into.

What sticks out to me above everything else is Ms. Becker’s voice. It is a unique blend of warm tones, with pop personality loaded with emotion. Just like her song writing, her voice effortlessly goes over musical genres and finds its niche in each. Her voice can easily morph into many characters and embody the complete emotion of her new alter ego. At one moment she can sing a song of heartbreak while moving into a song of new-found love.

Leslie Becker produces competent pop music through her multi-faceted voice and pristine song interpretation. She is pretty much Judy Garland mixed with Lady Gaga.

This is why Leslie Becker’s belongs within the vinyl culture. Vinyl culture isn’t about just having your material pressed on vinyl, it’s about possessing the talent that shoots straight for the soul. This talent does require pomp and circumstance. It’s a vocalist who is just at home at the piano as well as with a dance tune.

Leslie Becker’s career is going to continue to burn with the flame getting hotter. Right now, she has barely scorched listeners with her talent. Her voice and career is moving into a full-blown fire.

Don’t forget to follow Leslie Becker on Twitter at

Check out Leslie Becker and other AP artists on December 20th at the AP music showcase. She will be performing her hit song “Slow Burn” along with others.

Click here to buy your tickets.