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Stephen Bishop - Romance in Rio

April 17, 2007

Stephen Bishop is back, kids. He never really went away. The man just takes his time between albums. Hey, he can afford it. Anyone certainly could after penning such hits as “On and On,” “Separate Lives,” and “Save It for a Rainy Day,” while creating hit versions of other songwriters’ tunes (most notably “It Might Be You”). The man’s pretty much done it all, from the hit singles to appearing in films like The Kentucky Fried Movie and Animal House to doing guest voice work on “Tiny Toon Adventures,” appearing on an episode of “Laverne and Shirley” and much, much more. As he told me, he’s made a good career of it, so kudos to him.

Bish’s new album, Romance in Rio (the title of which was suggested by a fan on his message board), is part of 180 Music’s new line of releases appearing exclusively at Target. It’s part of the “Spotlight Features” series of CDs and is a Brazilian reworking of some of Stephen’s best-known work, as well as a few new gems recorded for the album. Bish is a big fan of Brazilian music, so it was quite the big deal when none other than Oscar Castro-Neves was signed on to produce and arrange the album, as well as play guitar on the tracks. Oscar’s been at the forefront of Brazilian pop for a long time now, having worked with Jobim, Brazil 66, you name it. Who better to have at your side for such a project?

Bishop worked with Neves to decide which of his tunes would translate well to the Brazilian format, and the finished product is nothing short of perfect. The songs of Romance in Rio really do translate well in their tropical styling. The production by Neves and Peter Bunetta is similarly impeccable, creating a warm, intimate atmosphere that really allows the songs to shine. For old fans, this album is a must-purchase. Newer fans will undoubtedly find much to be ecstatic about here as well. Bish has always been able to do the Adult Contemporary style with 100% honesty and zero cheese, and Romance in Rio should easily reel in listeners who are fans of that certain style, as well as Brazilian music.

So in case you were wondering, yes you get such Bish milestones as “On and On,” “Bish’s Hideaway” and “Separate Lives” here. Note, there is no “It Might Be You” since Stephen wanted to include songs only he wrote, or co-wrote, such as the wonderful opener “Under the Jamaican Moon” which was a nice hit for Leah Kunkel. And, as Bish pointed out to me, he has sung the old favorites in a bit of a new way, especially on something like “On and On” (“Can you imagine how many times I’ve sung that song?” he asked). To say the least, the new approach breathes much life into the classics and certainly these songs benefit from the casual, stripped down groove applied here.

The album’s highlight may, though, may just be “Un Baile Del Corazon” which features guest vocalist Luciana Souza, a wonderful Brazilian singer who’s rightfully a star in her homeland. One listen to the track and Souza’s voice and you’re guaranteed to become a fan. Her performance and the track itself give Romance in Rio its own “Girl From Ipanema,” which of course is something everyone should strive to achieve once in their lives.

Other guests include Bish’s old pal Eric Clapton playing the acoustic steel guitar solo on “Save It for a Rainy Day,” Kenny Rankin adding background vocals to “Bish’s Hideaway,” and the great guitarist Earl Klugh supplying the solo on “Un Baile Del Corazon.” In fact, all the musicians who played on the album, such as Don Grusin on keyboards, Alex Acuña on drums, bassist Brain Bromberg, and percussionist Kevin Richard and Gary Meek on sax and woodwinds, should all be given much respect for the wonderful music and performances they contributed on the album.

The album closes with a new number, “New York in the Fifties,” which Stephen wrote after seeing the film documentary of the same name and being impressed with it. It’s a very whimsical song, a sort of fun palate cleanser after the smoky romantic 11 tracks which precede it. As Bish noted to me, there are flutes on the song, which was a component the producers thought might be good on a number of the other tracks, but Stephen nixed the idea, thinking they’d be too distractive. He was undoubtedly right, as hearing the songs of Romance in Rio, one couldn’t imagine them getting any better. The mix is just right, and the performances are spot on. So what are you waiting for? Shuffle off to your nearest Target and pick up a copy and bathe in the Brazilian greatness. It’s certainly nice to have Bish back, indeed – even if he never really went away.

~Jason Thompson