Kyle Riabko
Credit: Johan Persson.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was walking in the Castro neighborhood and saw two signs in the window of a residence. They both were designed with the same look as a political advertisement, but none of the usual candidates’s names appeared. Instead, one said, “I’m with Bacharach” and below it, another that read, “I’m backing Bacharach.”

Credit: Johan Persson
Credit: Johan Persson

While I hesitate to speak of Kyle Riabko’s political beliefs, I’m quite certain that he might approve of both messages. Riabko, along with his manager, David Lane Seltzer, are the brainchildren behind Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined, a collection of 30 songs from the ubiquitous composer. The show opened at the New York Theatre Workshop and later transferred to London’s Criterion Theatre. Bacharach himself has offered his blessings and accolades to the talented Broadway/Singer-Songwriter star.

Next week, Riabko  will present a slimmed down solo version of the show at Joe’s Pub. He recently spoke with Manhattan Digest about the man whose declaration that “What the Worlds Needs Now Is Love” remains as relevant today as it did in 1965.

MD: What inspired you to reinterpret Burt Bacharach’s music?

KR: The inspiration came when I met Burt. I’d always known his music and had it in the back of my mind. I was hired as a vocalist to sing on some new demos that he had made. I thought I’d be in and out of the studio. The session turned into this extraordinary, musical bonding experience and Burt, my manager and I started brainstorming. So it really originated from this one session?

MD: Bacharach is such a legendary figure. He’s a musician’s musician. What was your experience like working with someone of his stature?

KR: It was absolutely amazing. I knew that Burt was a legend, but when I was in the same room as him, I feel the musicality. Watching him at the piano is like watching a maestro in front of an orchestra.  It was a life changing moment. I’ve met so many musicians along the way but when you do the math of how many songs he has composed, you realize that he couldn’t have written all of them without being a genius. Burt really treats songwriting as a trade instead of as inspiration. During his time at the famed Brill building, he’d wake up, grab his coffee, and go to the office to work. He didn’t wait for songs to come to him. He went out and just wrote them!

MD: It’s such a good work ethic.

KR: It totally is and I love that. I think Nashville is the only place where people work like that anymore.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson.

MD: Did you pick your favorites and then reinterpret them or did you hear reinterpretations in your head while listening to the original recordings?

KR: It was a combination of those things. My manager is the co-conceiver of this project. He’s a bit older than I am and he grew up with this music, so he had a real attachment to it. The music that I grew up with were singer/songwriters like Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Paul Simon. We had two different sets of ears going into this.

MD: Were there other musicians or other music that influenced these songs?

KR: I loved concept albums growing up. Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues. I liked the theatricality of them. They told a story in an abstract way, so I wanted to make a piece like that out of Burt’s music.

MD: Close To You had a fairly big cast. Will any of them be joining you for the Joe’s Pub concert?

KR: It’s actually pretty minimal. I’ve been travelling around solo with just my guitar, so it will be a more intimate version?

MD: Were there differences in the way that London audiences received this show versus New York audiences?

KR: Good question. In Burt’s words, he said that he became famous in England before he became famous in the states. Cilla Black was a British star who had recorded many of his songs, one of which was “Anyone Who Had A Heart.” When we sang that song in the show in London, we could hear whispers in the audience reminiscing about Cilla and her version.  But, I think that because of the universal familiarity, the whole takeaway was that this guy is beloved all over the world.

Photo courtesy of Dan Fortune PR.
Photo courtesy of Ghostlight Records.

Kyle Riabko: Bacharach Reimagined.

Monday Oct 17 @ 7 PM ET, Tuesday Oct 18 @ 9:30 PM ET at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street NY NY. For tickets and more information, click here.

To purchase the album on itunes: Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined