Posted on July 13, 2006 at 6:56 pm

I thought one of the cool things I could do on this blog would be to show how my material evolved from demo recordings to finished product. The tricky part is that I didn’t want to post anything that was actually bad or even unfinished, although that would have been the most instructive, so in this series of recordings, you’ll find some really great demos of songs that didn’t change all that much in their finished versions. But what the Hell, it’ll be fun.

Putting together Songs for a New World was a long process, and along the way, I went into a number of very cheap recording studios and knocked out versions of the songs, usually with the help of some amazing actor friends who were kind enough to do it for free. Those demos circulated for a long time while I was trying to get someone, anyone, to produce the show, and in a lot of ways, I’m more used to the sound of those recordings than I am to the original cast album.

“The River Won’t Flow” evolved from two separate ideas. First, a producer had given me a treatment of a musical based on “Pinocchio,” but set in the ghetto (it’s hard to explain), and I had an idea that one of the scenes could be these two homeless guys fighting. (It was a terrible idea, and we’re all grateful that the show never happened.) So that was sort of where the idea of the story came from. The second thread was a song I had written in college called (I’m sorry) “You’re Ugly And Your Mother Dresses You Funny,” which had the same intro riff and also did the same half-time change in the chorus (courtesy of a drummer named Joe Tompkins).

It would be really wild to present a demo of “You’re Ugly And Your Mother Dresses You Funny,” but I’m not going to do that. Perhaps someone I went to college with wants to post it on their website and waste their bandwidth, but it won’t be me.

The present recording probably was made in September or October of 1994, and features quite an impressive cast, although they weren’t anywhere near as famous twelve years ago as they are now. Since Billy Porter didn’t appear on the original cast recording of the show, this is one of the few opportunities you’ll have to hear the sensational way he performed my music. And Brian d’Arcy James did several readings of the show with us, but ultimately couldn’t do the production at the WPA. (Brooks thinks he was the first choice, so don’t tell him.) Of course, you’ve probably heard Andréa’s voice on the original cast recording, but you may not know the genius that is Amy Ryder. I hope to put more of Amy’s recordings up in the future, she recorded almost all of Woman 2’s material at some point or another and she’s just brilliant.

Like I said above, there’s not much to be “discovered” here; the piano part is a little different, and the tempo is several notches north of where I ultimately decided it should be, but other than that, this is just a nice opportunity to hear four amazing singers tackle a new song just because they believed in it. I can’t thank them enough for supporting me and sharing their awesome talent with me back then.

“The River Won’t Flow” from Songs for a New World (1995)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Brian D’arcy James, Billy Porter, Andréa Burns, Amy Ryder: vocals
JRB: piano/conductor
Recorded and mixed by Jeremy Harris at Westrax Recording Studios, NY NY, September 1994

I’m off to Chicago for the State Farm show, so I’ll probably be incommunicado for the next two weeks, but you never know. Anyway, when I’m back, more news about concerts, recordings, and new shows! Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for reviews on the London production of “The Last Five Years,” which opens next Tuesday. The actors and director are just wonderful, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Rock on, people,
J.

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