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Susan Werner's 'Classics' Proves What's Old is New Again


What's old is new again. That's certainly true for singer-songwriter Susan Werner whose latest album blends hit songs from the '60s and '70s with classical music.

Werner has covered a lot of musical ground over the past 15 years, including folk albums, jazz, and a recent collection of gospel music. With Classics, Susan ventures into the classical world and puts a new spin on some old favorites.

"The way I decided to do it was to take familiar materials and to arrange them for chamber music instruments," she explains. "So, the idea is that you hear something familiar in a new way and maybe with that you feel something new while listening to an old familiar song."

So how did she begin the process of turning classic pop into contemporary pop and classical? Susan says it all started with a Billboard magazine.

"For this one, my producer and I sat down with the Billboard Top [Hot] 100 list from 1965 to 1975," explains Werner. "We just tried them out with the sounds of a string quartet. We went right down them one after the next, and because I can play by ear, I can fake almost anything. And we found some that had surprises in them. The America tune was a big surprise, and I think it works because they sound a bit like pomp and circumstance, like you have a cap and gown and you're going down the aisle and you're about to graduate. There was this surprise informality in 'Lonely People' that made it just seem like a perfect fit."

Susan Werner, a champion of pop's singer-songwriter era, draws from such giants as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Susan says one of the most timeless pieces on the album is Marvin Gaye's foreboding melody, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)."

"We determined that the way to do it was to really 'underdo' it, to just let the words, as heartbreaking as they are, speak very clearly and say what it is they're saying," she says. "Which is more true now then it might have been even thirty years ago."

Susan Werner's Classics features a chamber ensemble with accompaniment by several members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

She recently stopped by VOA studios where she performed "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," first recorded by singer Nina Simone, but made famous by the British rock band The Animals.

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