Warren Wiebe – ‘Original Demos’ (2018)

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I’ve enjoyed the Original Demo series by the Spain-based label Contante & Sonante. Last year’s Tonio K / Burt Bacharach release remains one of my favorites, and the label’s new release by GIG (Bruce Gaitsch, Dave Innis and Randy Goodrum) is one of my favorites for 2018. The Original Demos limited release featuring singer Warren Wiebe presents a new wrinkle, however.

Wiebe was highly respected as a singer, but died prematurely in 1998. He was a go-to demo singer for such talents as David Foster, Burt Bacharach & Tonio K., and Tom Snow among others. Unfortunately, Wiebe never completed an original album, nor was he a composer in his own right. Taken in this context, the pieced-together Original Demos is better understood.

And with all of that said, it’s still a treat worth owning, if you can get one of the 1,000 printed copies. That’s because Contante & Sonante’s are well produced and expertly recorded. It’s usually hard to believe these songs are only demos. Six of the 14 songs make their debut here, having never been released in any prior setting.

“The Colour of My Love” kicks off Original Demos and it’s a familiar-sounding David Foster ballad. Exquisitely crafted, the song was written for the musical Scream. This performance was envied by many – including Celine Dion, who conveyed that she thought Warren Wiebe’s version was perfect. For it a song designated as a demo, it’s hard to disagree with her. The piano and string backing gel perfectly with Wiebe’s yearning vocal. This song is something special.

“Live Each Day” by song savant David Foster is also a gem. Wiebe makes touching use of his middle register in a melody, which floats over acoustic guitar and light synthesizer touches. Lyricist Linda Thompson provides an earnest and direct set of lyrics, which are even more touching in this context. The vocal was used in a different setting by producer Tomi Malm in another arrangement pf the song for the Fly Way: The Songs of David Foster album. On Original Demos, the feel is different and just as – if not more – touching.

My favorite is “Spend a Little Time With You.” This duet with Shaun Murphy of Little Feat/Bob Seger fames was written by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford; it’s an infectious romp with effective synth horns. Wiebe and Murphy square off in their vocal performances, pushing each other to new heights. Add in the guitar work of James Harrah, and it’s again hard to believe that this is a demo much less that it has gone unreleased for so long.

“The Day I First Saw You,” written by Joseph Williams of Toto and Guy Thomas, has a MOR mid-tempo feel with a Toto-like chorus. Warren Wiebe’s vocal is powerful and perfectly at home in this light-rock setting; it’s all rounded out by strong drumming and Mike Landau-like guitar.

“Lorelei” offers an interesting contrast to “The Day I First Saw You.” The song has the feel of an early Richard Marx or Bill Champlin. Indeed, Wiebe’s vocals stray very much into Champlin territory. Written by Guy Thomas with Paul Chiten and Kenny Loggins, “Lorelei” moves along with authority thanks to the crunchy rhythm guitar and neat synth break. A multi-tracked vocal from Warren Wiebe only adds to the song’s gravitas. This is yet another track that I find hard believe did not find the light of day in the ’90s.

“Don’t Tell My Heart” finds Tim Feehan, a prominent Canadian pop singer/songwriter, cowriting with Tony Smith on a ballad which showcases Wiebe at his soulful best. Tenor saxophonist Dave Boruff matches Wiebe’s passion, which could only be enhanced by real drums and bass guitar. “Don’t Tell My Heart” is yet another Warren Wiebe demo which deserves to be heard. It’s almost unimaginable the song did not find a place on an MOR album of that era.

Tim Feehan also provides the anthemic “Make A Wish” to close out the album. The hook-laden song beams with positivity and has a decidedly optimistic feel. Given the climate in America, that kind of sunny outlook is welcome, but it probably works even better as a peek into the ’90s time capsule.

Indeed, all the newly released and previously released songs are well-crafted throwback pop. Even the lesser songs are buoyed by Warren Wiebe’s obvious talent. Hopefully, this album will bring joy to those who have been exposed to his talent, while converting new followers to a singer who was gone way too soon.

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