“I don’t do ‘covers,’ I reinterpret songs. If I can’t put my own spin on something, I won’t do it…”
Without question, popular performer Frank Shiner (winner of two L.A. Music Critic Awards) has demonstrated his finely-honed ability to put his own unique stamp on classic material previously recorded by others via his sophomore album, LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET. Turning in stellar performances on songs popularized by such artists as The Rascals, Brook Benton, Sam & Dave, Elton John, Bill Withers and Donny Hathaway, Frank has created a tour-de-force collection of twelve songs from the songbooks of legendary writers such as Randy Newman, Doc Pomus, Isaac Hayes & David Porter and Tony Joe White among others.
“I decided to do ‘blue-eyed soul’ for my second album,” explains the New York resident, using a term that was first coined by renowned black radio personality Georgie Woods in the mid-‘60s when referencing The Righteous Brothers. “I’ve always been intrigued by and loved the genre which has really morphed into including artists like my heroes Hall & Oates, Amy Winehouse and others.”
Indeed, with LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET, Frank can most assuredly add his name to the list of bona fide ‘blue-eyed soul’ purveyors thanks to his passionate reading of such songs as “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (written by Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, who first recorded it and best known for a 1973 recording by late Donny Hathaway) and “Love Is A Losing Game” from the catalog of Amy Winehouse. Notes Frank, “There is a little Donny Hathaway influence in my singing of that song. I think we brought even more passion to it. I’m a trained Shakespearian actor so I need to have a special focus on the lyrics in my songs. With the song by Amy, well, it’s heart wrenching. I can’t imagine what kind of pain she was going through when she wrote it. It has that feeling of someone who’s ‘lost’ and I well-up nearly every time I sing the song…”
The process of selecting material for LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET began with Frank collaborating with A&R veteran Mitchell Cohen with whom he worked on his critically-acclaimed 2015 debut album, “The Real Me.” Says Frank, “I call Mitchell a walking encyclopedia of music! He sent me over a hundred songs: I was looking for material that spoke to me on every level – musically, emotionally and from a storytelling standpoint. We finally got down to eleven songs and then my producer Jay Newland (a 10-time Grammy winner known for his work with Norah Jones, Gregory Porter and Ayo among others) suggested “Rainy Night In Georgia” – and bing! We knew that was the last song to record and it’s become one of my absolute favorites on the album: I really analysed it before I sang it. The biggest challenge was to put my own stamp on it because there are so many great versions. I wanted to bring out a deeper meaning: I made a whole story in my head before I sang it…and I thought about the loneliness of someone wandering with no place to go, thinking about the woman he loves…”
LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET opens with Frank’s melancholy-filled, deliberately sparse reinterpretation of “How Can I Be Sure,” a 1967 hit for The Young Rascals, recorded like the rest of the album “extremely stripped down,” notes the singer. “I wanted even more of a ‘live’ sound than I had on my first record so that it would be more like the sound when I perform in concert. I recorded looking out at the musicians and almost every track is one solid take which creates a continuity and an emotional string which runs throughout the album and that’s what I want people to hear.”
Cut with a group of ‘A’ musicians who often record together (handpicked by producer Newland) that includes keyboardist and arranger Glenn Patscha (who has worked with Roger Waters, Marc Cohn, Bettye Lavette, Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson among others); guitarist Sherrod Barnes (who’s toured with Roberta Flack and Whitney Houston); drummer Dan Rieser (Marcy Playground, Rosanne Cash, Norah Jones); saxophonist Andy Snitzer (Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones); and bassist Zev Katz (who’s played for dozens of artists including Jeff Beck, Carole King, Lady Gaga and James Taylor), LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET includes number of standout performances by Shiner such as the title track, a propulsive Bill Withers song (recorded for his second album in 1972): “The rhythm is spectacular and you can’t listen to it without bopping in your seat! It spoke to the whole ‘feel’ of the album and like every single song we selected, it has a beginning, middle and an end. I want to take the listener from A-Z through the story…”
Shiner’s own story as a performer (and in recent years as a recording artist) is atypical: after nearly two decades away from working as an entertainer – “I paid my dues, I fulfilled responsibility as a father, husband, a friend, as a business person and put everything on back burner” – Frank returned to singing following his wife Suzanne’s battle with cancer in 2009. A year later, she encouraged him to sing one night at a local open mic night and the audience reaction – along with that of the bandleader who followed Frank out to the parking lot to almost beg him to become a vocalist with his orchestra – led Shiner back to performing on a regular basis.
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, growing up in Mountain Top (and from the age of ten, working side-by-side with his late father Francis in the family-owned bakery), Frank’s love for music and theatre first found expression when he was cast in the role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, “I finally felt at home when I stood on that stage and heard the audience reaction and felt that energy, I said, ‘ok this is what I want to do.’” In college, Frank briefly began studying law before switching to acting, training in classics by Shakespeare and Moliere and moving to New York, where he would go on to appear in over sixty theatre and television productions and meet “the love of my life” Suzanne, who he married within two years after arriving in New York.
“There were never any regrets,” says Frank of his time away from singing and acting and in 2014, with the release of “The Real Me,” produced by award-winner Gary Katz, Frank reignited on record the passion for music he had never lost personally. Dipping into the catalogs of a diverse range of artists including Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Roxy Music, Paul Simon and Dr. John. “Feels Like Home,” a Randy Newman reinterpretation, gained considerable airplay in and around the New York area as the premier single from the album (distributed by Universal Music Group) as did “Driving Home For Christmas,” a holiday evergreen written by British singer-songwriter Chris Rea, issued ahead of his debut CD in December 2013, with proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in honor of his late father.
Out in October 2016, Frank’s potent reading of another yuletide classic, “Please Come Home For Christmas,” is a prelude to the March 2017 release of LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET, an album that showcases Frank’s artistry as an interpreter of timeless material delivered with heart and from the soul. “I like to think I stayed true to every one of the songs on the album. Each one has a deep meaning on multiple levels. Take for example, “She’s Gone,” which was originally recorded by Hall & Oates and done by Tavares and Lou Rawls. It’s a cool rhythmic song yet people don’t focus on what the song is saying. I think Lou’s version came closest to relaying the pain in the lyric…what it’s like for the guy having the woman out of his life. Then there’s “Guilty,” a great bluesy song by Randy Newman which is about a guy who’s made a lot of bad decisions and nothing he does turns out right.”
While Frank relishes material written by classic tunesmiths such as Doc Pomus (whose “There is Always One More Time,” a song recorded previously by Johnny Adams is given a bluesy, horn-laced workout), he delves into the Justin Timberlake catalog for “Drink You Away,” offering a slower version that combines elements of soul, rock and blues. “I’m a fan. I think Justin is extremely talented. In my recording, I went vocally ‘over the top’ with it…and I had so much fun with it. The joke is…I am so much not a drinker! As an actor however, I understand someone who is trying to drink someone away and I certainly know people who have. Live, when I perform it, I think this is going to be the highlight of my show!”
Visiting a tried-and-tested soul classic, Frank takes “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” the Hayes & Porter song first cut by famed duo Sam & Dave, and brings an intimate flavor to it. “I did it as a duet with (award-winning vocalist) Leslie Mendelson – which has been done before by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt. Like everything else on the album, it was done live in the studio – and literally, Leslie and I sang looking at each other, picking up on each other’s tones, mirroring each other’s riffs. It was wonderful.” Mendelson also joins Frank to provide background vocals for “I Will Be There,” a Van Morrison song “that has a New Orleans kind of flavor. It’s almost like a ‘Stand By Me’ kind of tune and it reflects how I live my life, as a guy who’s loyal to family and friends.” With “Shine On Through,” Frank pays a rousing homage to Sir Elton John, often considered a pioneer in the world of blue-eyed soul. “It builds into a gospel song and I can see myself having audience participation when we do the song live, lifting people up…”
That last sentiment is very much at the core of Frank Shiner’s approach to his work as an artist and indeed in life: “After people heard my last album, I got letters and comments from people who knew the story of how I got back into performing sharing how they were inspired to get back to teaching, writing and music, how they have gone back to those things in their later years. If I can be a motivation for other people, what more could I possibly want?”
Asked about how LONELY TOWN, LONELY STREET fits into his career objectives, Frank Shiner smiles: “I don’t think I have a ‘career objective’ as such. I’m loving every second of what I’m doing now. I just want to do more of this…performing and recording, and if this album goes somewhere, well, that’s the cherry on top of the sundae…but I’ve already got the sundae! The greatest compliment I get when I perform is when audience members tell me they can see the total bliss and total joy I have onstage and how I made it fun for them too. The minute I lose that, it’s time to stop.” With the release of an album made with love and delivered with true authenticity and passion, that won’t be anytime soon.