One Track Mind: Anastasia Barzee, "Dinner at Eight" (2011)

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Some songs are so personal, so specific, that you wonder if anyone else could ever do them justice. Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner at Eight,” originally about a confrontation with his often-absent father, was one of them.

Until now: Anastasia Barzee, a veteran of the Broadway stage, has deftly embraced the song’s roiling emotions as part of her forthcoming release for Ghostlight Records, The Dimming of the Day, and somewhere along the way transformed them into something more universal.

Beginning with a quietly effective vocal, Barzee sings at first with only a delicately resonant string accompaniment — the just-right handy work of producer Matt Pierson and arranger Gil Goldstein. As she gets into the heart of the lyric — but ’til then no, Daddy, don’t be surprised if I wanna see the tears in your eyes — the rest of the crack band they’ve assembled starts to gather around. Longtime Dylan sideman Larry Campbell’s guitar adds deeper colors and then, like a fall breeze pushing curled leaves end over end, Goldstein contributes a series of haunting asides at the piano.

Just like that, Barzee’s The Dimming of the Day, set for release on Sept. 27, has found its centerpiece — and in the most unlikely of places.

The song, once as closed as a clinched fist, eventually opens up, seeming to become less about a specific family breakup than something we’ve all felt — the sting of heartbreak. “Why is it so,” Barzee sings, with an devastating resignation, “that I’ve always been the one who must go? When in fact you were the one, long ago, in the drifting white snow, who left me?” The rhythm section of bassist Larry Grenadier and Kendrick Scott add a gentle swing to the proceedings, but only for the briefest of moments. They mirror something deeper in the song: That moment, that very instant, of reflection seems to harden Barzee’s resolve.

As the song unwinds toward its gloamy end, Barzee adds: “I’m gonna break you down, and see what you’re worth — what you’re really worth to me.” It’s a conclusion as final as it is brutally honest.

Anastasia Barzee’s debut The Dimming of the Day also includes covers of tracks composed by Paul Simon (“American Tune”), Richard Thompson (the title track), Randy Newman (“Feels Like Home”), Kate Bush (“The Man with the Child in His Eyes”), Jimmy Webb (“All I Know”) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Nothing Like You’ve Ever Known”), among others. Guests include saxophonist Steve Wilson (on three tracks) and singer Brian D’arcy (on Thompson’s “The Dimming of the Day”).

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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