He Knows More Now :: Brian De Lorenzo Returns with His New CD

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 11, 2020

It's been two decades since Brian De Lorenzo's previous CD, "Found Treasures," but in the meantime, De Lorenzo has been busy with Boston theater, cabaret shows, and other engagements, including shows at Sculler's and Club Caf in Boston, the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, and New York venues like 54 Below and Birdland, among others.

Along the way, De Lorenzo has racked up multiple nominations for his cabaret acts from the (sadly, now-disbanded) Independent Reviewers of New England, not to mention winning the distinction of being named Talent America's 2001 "Performer of the Year." Now he brings his cabaret style — and a wide-ranging mix of tracks that dip into Great American Songbook territory, as well as pop and musical theater — to a cleverly-named follow-up CD, "I Know More Now."

EDGE caught up with De Lorenzo to hear about the new CD. De Lorenzo started the chat by volunteering the story of why he's brought out his second CD at this particular time.

"A few years ago, after hearing the question 'When is your next CD coming out?' many times, and also saying to myself, 'I want to do another CD,' but never getting around to it, I decided to do two things: 1) start putting money aside; and, 2) start making a list of songs I'd like to record.

"At the beginning of last year," De Lorenzo added, "I finally said, 'OK. I have my list and my savings. I'm going to contact my old friend Doug Hammer (my often-time accompanist, collaborator, and recording engineer for my first CD) and book some time in his studio."

If the 16 tracks on the new CD feel fresh as well as familiar — in the sense of intimately contemplated, that is — it's because some of these tracks have been on De Lorenzo's setlist for years, as is the case with "I'd Rather Be Sailing," from the musical "A New Brain."

It was a delight to catch up to Brian De Lorenzo and delve deeply into the stories behind the songs he's brought us on his new CD.

EDGE: The title "I Know More Now" seems like a nod to your first album, 1999's "Found Treasures." Are you saying you have grown as an artist, or you're now taking more or a far and wide approach to putting together your material?

Brian De Lorenzo: As Doug and I reviewed the material, along with my husband (John Amodeo), a pattern of growth and learning started to emerge and the phrase "I know more now" from the song "No More" (from Zippel & Hamlisch's "The Goodbye Girl") struck a chord. Because I've lived with many ups and downs in the 20 years since my first solo recording, I know a lot more about life.

EDGE: "Found Treasures" was mostly drawn from musical theater — and that's also true with your new album, to a large extent, but you also have some pop songs, cabaret songs, and standards. What's your main criteria for wanting to record a song?

Brian De Lorenzo: Initially, melodies, harmonies, and arrangements are what spark an interest in a song, but the lyrics and the story of the song are what keep me attracted. If a song is musically beautiful, but the lyrics don't click with me, then I'm not interested in singing it.

I want to mention that three of the songs on the new album are by composer, arranger, songwriter, and author David Friedman. His songs really speak to me and move me. I first heard his songs in 1991—the year I met my future husband, John Amodeo. In 1997, during the closing credits of the film "Trick," I heard a song called "Trick of Fate" and I knew I had to sing it. Turns out, it was by David Friedman. It hadn't been published yet, so I contacted David and he sent me a lead sheet. I sang it during my wedding reception in 2001, accompanied by Doug Hammer. Of course, it's one of the three Friedman songs on the new album.

EDGE: You sound like you might be classically trained.

Brian De Lorenzo: I have a degree in Musical Theatre from the State University of New York (SUNY) Fredonia, but my voice teachers in college taught classical technique, so the students would learn to sing in a healthy way and not injure themselves, as so many pop singers do.

When I was a child, my parents and my four sisters and I always sang together. My father was a semi-professional singer, even appearing regularly on a local radio program sometime in the '50s. I started piano lessons when I was nine. That same year, the local community chorus — The Fine Arts Chorale of Weymouth, MA was looking for three boy sopranos to sing a small section of Benjamin Britten's St. Nicholas Cantata at Christmastime, and I was hired for my first "semi-pro" gig.

One of the nuns at my grade school (St. Francis Xavier in South Weymouth) attended one of the performances and told my parents about a new choir school (which eventually became New England Children's Choir) that had just opened, and I started attending the following year.

It turned out to be a good fit for this future gay man, who didn't like to play sports or go to gym class. The school held classes on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 or 3 pm, teaching kids how to read music, play instruments (recorder), and to sing children's choral music. I actually didn't mind missing Saturday morning cartoons on TV. We also learned music history and performed in children's musicals and operas (I played "Hansel" in a children's version of Humperdinck's "Hansel & Gretel.") That led to singing in Concert Choir in high school, which led to singing in All-State and All-Eastern Chorus.

I knew I would go to college for music. I started at the University of Lowell as a music major, but I really wanted to go into musical theatre, so after two years, I transferred to SUNY Fredonia, one of only a handful of colleges that offered a musical theatre degree at the time.

I've continued satisfying my love of choral music over the years. While at Fredonia, I was in an ensemble called the Fredonia Chamber Singers. With them, I traveled outside the US for the first time, when we toured Israel for nine days. One of the musical high points of my life was singing the solo part of the spiritual "Ain't Got Time to Die" in Rehoboth, Israel. I felt — "one with the universe" for those few minutes.

Later tours with the Chamber Singers brought me to the UK and Germany. I'm so happy to still be in touch with so many of the Singers. We have had two reunion concerts over the past five years — of singers not just from my time at Fredonia, but over an almost 20-year period of time. Coincidentally, I have been singing in a church choir for the past 17 years and we have four members as well as a few substitutes who are Fredonia grads.

Another musical high point of my life happened just last September when I was invited to return to Fredonia to participate in the 50th-anniversary celebration of the I.M. Pei-designed Michael C. Rockefeller Arts Center, along with many other graduates in theatre and music. In addition to singing close-harmony jazz vocals with new and old friends, accompanied by the Little Apple Big Band, I sang "This Is the Moment" (Jekyll & Hyde) with the Western New York Chamber Orchestra.

EDGE: You have sung a lot in live venues like Scullers and been active in theater (The Company Theatre in Norwell) — why have you got only two albums?

Brian De Lorenzo: It's a combination of things: life getting busy; the idea of all the work that goes into making an album was somewhat daunting; and having the funding in place. Now that I have the second one under my belt, and now that I can wrap my head around all the changes that have taken place in the music industry over the past 20 years, there's going to be much less time between recordings. The wheels are already in motion for the third album and maybe even a fourth.

EDGE: 21 years is a long time between albums. Is there some special significance to the timing of "I Know More Now?"

Brian De Lorenzo: The only real significance is that a couple of years ago I realized that the 20th anniversary of the release of "Found Treasures" was coming up, so that's when I decided to make a conscious effort to make some song selections and go into the studio.

EDGE: The tracks on "I Know More Now" include a selection from "Dear Evan Hansen," and have some other picks that will delight gay listeners.... including, I think, the raucous "Entering Marion," by John Forster. Did you have an eye to the gay/bi audience when making your selections of the 16 tracks on the new CD?

Brian De Lorenzo: Most of the material was chosen because I like the songs and I want to perform them for people because I think people will enjoy them. "I'd Rather Be Sailing" is written for a gay character in the musical "A New Brain," but it can be sung by anyone of any gender or sexual identity. Similarly, "Trick of Fate" was written for a film about two gay men, but it can be sung by anyone to anyone.

I did choose to make a little change to Loesser & Styne's "I Said No." It was written for a straight female, but as a male singer, it works better and is funnier if I sing it as a gay man, rather than either pretending I'm a straight man, or singing it from the point of view of a straight woman. I did a similar thing with "Tonight at Eight" on "Found Treasures."

EDGE: I'd love to know who did the arrangements for these songs, especially your read on "Some Enchanted Evening."

Brian De Lorenzo: Doug Hammer is a great collaborator, which is why I went back to him after 20 years. I can bring an idea to him, and he'll flesh it out at the piano. Or he'll suggest a different feel to the style and accompaniment of a song. We'll discuss each song and determine if the written arrangement from the sheet music is what we want to use, or if we want to make changes. Sometimes, we might change only the intro. Or we might start in one style or tempo, then change it 16 bars into the song, as we did with "Who Will Buy?" on my first CD.

The arrangement for "Some Enchanted Evening" (from Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific") is based on one that was recorded by one of my favorite singers to listen to in the late '70s/early '80s, Jane Olivor. I love the feel of it, which we kept, but Doug's accompaniment is his own — it doesn't mimic what's on Jane's recording. I told Doug that when I sing and play it at my piano, in certain places I hear a motif from "Bali Hai," which is from the same show. So Doug subtly included the motif in the accompaniment. We also added a key change for dramatic effect.

EDGE: Your longtime accompanist is Doug Hammer, who you also worked with in the recording of the CD. How does the chemistry between singer and accompanist work?

Brian De Lorenzo: I first worked with Doug in 1995. I was taking my first cabaret masterclass with the illustrious Helen Baldassare and Doug was the accompanist for the class. He was a good sight-reader and good at incorporating ideas from the singers and Helen, so naturally, I began working with him after that. Because we're both trained musicians and open to different ideas, we work well together. We're able to incorporate ideas from each of us into particular numbers. Other times I might say, "What if we tried it this way?" and after trying it Doug may feel the idea doesn't work, so we drop it.

A verse might not work out of the context of the musical, so Doug might recommend we cut it. Or he might suggest cutting one iteration of a phrase that's sung three times and I'll say "No, I like it — I want to keep it. We can make it work." There's a lot of give and take. I've also worked with a number of other Boston-area and NYC-based accompanists over the years. Many times, it comes down to who is available for the gig. Sometimes, I might want to stretch my chops and work with someone who's mainly a jazz accompanist.

EDGE: One standout on this new CD is "Every Morning (Mary)," which you are the first singer to put on an album, and which comes from the new opera "Moby Dick." Obviously, your personal canon is not a closed book! You're very much up to the moment in terms of musical tastes and ambition.

Brian De Lorenzo: Actually, the song is not from the new opera that was recently done at A.R.T., but from a musical called "Moby Dick: An American Opera" that was written in the mid-1990s by playwright Mark St. Germain and composer Doug Katsaros. I was in the 2001 New England premiere at New Repertory Theatre (in Newton Highlands at the time). None of my characters had the good fortune to sing the song, but I fell in love with it and have performed it over the years since. When I was applying for recording licenses for the CD, I discovered no one had ever recorded it. I contacted Doug (Katsaros) and he and Mark gave their blessing. I think a lot of people will wonder how such a beautiful song has been around since 1996 without ever having a professional recording.

I guess I'm a little bit more up-to-date with "Waving Through a Window," which is the newest song on the recording. It's also the most challenging musically, lyrically, and emotionally.

EDGE: It may be too early to ask if you're thinking about a third CD, but what theater and concert prospects might you be looking at for the near future?

Brian De Lorenzo: Next up, I'll be participating in Provincetown's annual CabaretFest!, which I've performed at many times since cabaret impresario John O'Neil founded it 20 years ago. It's now produced by the indomitable Patricia Fitzpatrick. The festival runs from May 28-31 at The Pilgrim House. On July 28 I'm doing a show at Club Caf's Napoleon Room called "Come What May: Pop, Hollywood, and Broadway Duets" with my friend Joyce MacPhee, who also sings with a group called Divas with a Twist. I also plan to bring "I Know More Now" to New York City — and anyplace else that would like to book it!

It's not too early to ask about a third CD because it's in the works. Over the past five years, I've been doing a lot of standards, including tributes to Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra, so my friend Tom LaMark has been doing "small big band" arrangements for me. We plan to go into the studio sometime in the next few months.

For more about Brian De Lorenzo and his new CD, "I Know More Now," please go to https://briandelorenzo.com.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.