Rumer has retreated to the safe territory of Bacharach/David to reignite her career. It works: refined and assured, this is a magnificent execution of vocal craft on a timeless set of songs.
When Rumer's latest project was first announced, it seemed a great idea: the opportunity to showcase the honeyed tones of a singer, who has justifiably drawn comparisons to the heaven-on-earth voice of Karen Carpenter, in an homage to the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
That said, there are two challenges that the Pakistani-born British singer-songwriter has had to overcome. First, after the wide acclaim for her debut album Seasons of My Soul (2010), there has been a sense of career stagnation. The two follow-ups, 2012’s Boys Don’t Cry (an eclectic collection of covers ranging from Terry Reid to Gilbert O’Sullivan), and 2014’s Into Colour (all original material) garnered mixed reviews, and suggested an artist unsure of her musical direction. This uncertainty was likely amplified by the departure of Rumer's original musical mentor and musical director, Steve Brown, right in the middle of the making of Boys Don’t Cry.
Secondly, Bacharach and David wrote some of the most toweringly accomplished collaborations of the second half of the 20th century. Any singer daring enough to try her hand at classics like “Walk on By” or “(They Long to Be) Close to You” better be able to pull them off.
Thankfully, Rumer has cleared both hurdles. Brown may have departed, but her acquisition of a new musical guru (and now husband) in ex-Bacharach and Dionne Warwick musical arranger, Rob Shirakbari, has resulted in about as stylish and classy set of Bacharach/David interpretations as one might conceive. Working hand in glove with Shirakbari, this album ought to put Rumer back on to the illuminating pathway her talent deserves.
The song selection is thoughtful and occasionally inspired. A perfect example of a team who know their Bacharach and David inside out is the rendition of “One Less Bell to Answer”, a U.S. No 2 for the Fifth Dimension in 1970, but little played on the radio nowadays. Rumer’s pitch and control as she describes this story of lost love is flawless and Shirakbari’s understated production creates a dreamy aural delight. “Are You There (For Another Girl)” is another lesser-known pleasure that maintains the high quality: Rumer’s double tracked vocal mimicking her heroine Carpenter’s purity of expression, although the likeness between them never palls.
Rumer shows no lack of confidence in tackling a pair of all-time classic, the Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and Herb Alpert's “This Girl’s in Love With You”, but she rises to the occasion on both. She and Shirakbari may have played it safe by sticking to faithful renditions of the originals, but they are so lovely they practically shine. Rumer’s ability to wring the maximum emotion out of Hal David’s devastatingly direct words of yearning makes the performances worthy of their exalted status in the modern pop pantheon. “This Girl’s in Love With You” is another triumph, further enlivened by a croaky piano-playing Burt spoken intro. Rumer always maintains careful control of her vocals and never really lets it rip, but the uncomplicated, even sometimes spartan arrangements suit her smooth delivery perfectly. These songs and arrangements demand an emotional investment, and you can feel her making that effort on each and every word.
There is an occasional misstep. Rumer and Shirakbari’s quest for undiscovered Bacharach/David gems, mostly from the Dionne Warwick songbook, leads them to a couple of duds. “Balance of Nature” is an uncharacteristically bland, sugary Bacharach melody followed at too clunky a pace. “In the Land of Make Believe” is a meandering tune lacking a killer hook (incidentally, Dusty Springfield did a much better job on this one back in the day).
Neither of these blemishes should conceal a singer who is at the top of her game. Although Shirakbari’s first outing with his now wife,Into Colour, was not a conspicuous success, This Girl’s in Love With You indicates that he might be the collaborator who can lead Rumer to new heights. Their next offering of original songs will be eagerly awaiting. Even more befitting, this selection is proof positive that in Hal David and Burt Bacharach (still going extraordinarily strong in his 88th year; his partner passed away at 91 in 2012), songs that combine arch intelligence, sophisticated melody, and effortless lyrics become more precious and timeless with every passing year.