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Music Review: Dionne Warwick – Make Way For Dionne Warwick & Here I Am

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Outside of maybe Frank Sinatra’s work with Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen, it’s hard to think of a more perfect marriage of singer and songwriting team than the partnership of Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, and Hal David. This Tuesday, Collector’s Choice will release nine of the first ten albums Dionne Warwick cut for Scepter Records between 1963 and 1968, which represent their rise to stardom.

By 1964, Dionne Warwick had become a presence on the pop charts through her hits “Don’t Make Me Over” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart.” But her third album, Make Way For Dionne Warwick, was the first to chart, largely on the strength of “Walk On By,” her second Top Ten pop hit and one of the most enduring songs of the era, and “You’ll Never Get To Heaven.”

As with her previous work, these songs expanded upon the Brill Building hits Pomus-Shuman and Leiber-Stoller had written for The Drifters a few years back, mixing pop melodies, R&B vocals with Latin rhythms and lush string arrangements. Bacharach’s melodies featured outrageous intervals and drifted in and out of complex time signatures, and David’s lyrics dealt with more adult issues in relationships than anything else around. Warwick’s astonishing and versatile voice allowed them to be heard all over the AM radio dial, soulful enough for black radio, young enough for the white masses, and musical enough for jazz and Broadway fans.

Some of the songs on Make Way For is also notable for the number of songs that would later become hits for other artists, including “Wishin’ And Hopin'” (almost identical to Dusty Springfield’s version) and “Close To You” (not nearly as cloying as The Carpenters’ recording). The album also opens with another Bacharach-David standard, “A House Is Not A Home,” which is better-suited for a man (check out Brook Benton’s or Luther Vandross’ versions), although Warwick pulls it off with aplomb.

Back then, albums were seen as little more than the singles plus a whole lot of filler. That’s largely true in this case (two songs had been previously released on Warwick’s first album), but Bacharach and David used the extra tracks to experiment with more challenging material to see what she could do, and the artistic success of “Land Of Make Believe” and “The Last One To Be Loved” hint at the greatness to be found on 1965’s Here I Am.

Beginning on the impossibly high notes of “In Between The Heartaches,” Here I Am is a masterpiece on all levels. Although the singles were only modest hits, possibly because they were so much more sophisticated than anything else around, the album could very well be the artistic pinnacle of their triumvirate.

With the exception of a misguided attempt at Broadway hackwork (Newley-Bricusse’s “Once In A Lifetime”), every song on Here I Am hits its mark and sticks the landing. Bacharach’s always-inventive arrangements shift direction with little or no warning, moving from small combo to full orchestra in an instant. Brian Wilson has said that the Pet Sounds instrumental “Let’s Go Away For A While” was heavily influenced by Bacharach, and you can hear that in many of the songs, including the seductive title track.

David’s direct and poignant lyrics deal mostly with break-ups and infidelity, and few singers have ever played the wounded lover better than Warwick, who is at the top of her game here. She navigates gracefully through the complexities of such songs as “Window Wishing,” “If I Ever Make You Cry,” and the stunning “Are You There (With Another Girl).”

Here I Am also features strong takes on the gospel standard “This Little Light,” which features Warwick on piano, and the Gershwins’ “I Loves You, Porgy.”

My only major complaint about both of these discs is that the remastering job is rather poor. They are tinny, with significant noise and neither disc handles the dynamics well. Compare these with the same songs on Rhino’s essential The Look Of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection box set and you’ll notice a definite inferiority.

While casual fans will want to hear her versions of the well-known Bacharach-David songs on Make Way For Dionne Warwick, it’s the stronger material and performances on Here I Am that make for the more rewarding listen.

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About Dave Lifton