Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki: Listen—Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki—Pop Art Songs

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Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki

Listen—Anya Turner & Robert Grusecki—Pop Art Songs

by Jerry Osterberg

Having been exposed to the American Songbook during my early years, I was secure enough to transition some of my attention to rock & roll. But, in my world, Dion, Holly, and Anka, had to share space with Sinatra, Day, and Garland. Long after rock and I had parted ways, I came to discover the magic of cabaret, having received many years of indoctrination from WNEW.

By the time I attended my first show at the Oak Room, my audio “training” in the world of standards had already advanced by 25 years, more than enough to sustain me following the demise of the radio station which had become WQEW. But it would be another quarter century before I came to appreciate that one doesn’t need to recognize the name of the songwriter or the song to like them.

Enter Anya Turner and Robert Grusecki. This is the first of their several albums I’ve been exposed to, although I have seen them perform and the experience has been great. While Turner and Grusecki are relatively new to me, they are not newcomers. They are popular performers, their material is top rate, and they’re adept at connecting with an audience. The music is melodic; the lyrics are unique, and the stories come to credible conclusions.

For those who haven’t heard them before, this six-song collection is a good introduction. As in “Anonymous,” the protagonist has something important to say. There’s no aspiration to be anything other than anonymous; nothing more, but nothing less either. If this was a “girl singer” in a big band, it wouldn’t bother her in the least if the band leader didn’t get to her one solo. She is “the opposite of wanting all the world to know your name.” Not at all running away from fame, this strong woman is satisfied with what she’s achieved. Turner’s magnificent voice captures all of it.

“I’d Rather Be with You” is an atypical “list” song in which the narrator is desperately looking for a reasonable solution to all the chaos in the world, while not expecting anything more than one night of blessed peace. One hears two distinct voices; one is lighthearted, carefree and undemanding—think Mary Cleere Haran: “I could rearrange the closet, but I’d rather be with you.” The other is the desperate one who can barely contain it, suggesting Patti LuPone, filled with angst and frustration: “Make it stop; make it stop. I must find a way to alleviate this stress.” By the end of the last chorus, the easy-going persona gets the last word: “But tonight we’re here together. I don’t want to waste this moment. I would rather be with you.”

“# Me Too” is much more than a song of the moment. Indeed, this is a about a number of would-be moments and clearly not a chronicle of a one-night stand. The speaker doesn’t see herself as a heroine, but she’s willing to take the risk that her date is enlightened. She appears to be a sturdy woman who has definite boundaries: “Please respect my body. Please respect my mind. Careful what you say and what you do.” While some of what she says may be an internal dialog, one might be surprised if the man doesn’t perceive that this is a smart woman who knows what she wants: “Please don’t steal the little time I have to find all the feelings deep inside of me and you.” If the guy can truly treat her as an equal, they will have found a way to build a relationship and make it work.

My hands-on favorite song is “Listen.” With shadings of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, it’s an anthem of encouragement. Much of the song is rendered andante; Turner performs the first half with an empathetic recognition of secret pain, leading to a solo from Grusecki: “Something in my heart is starting to say ‘Go ahead and trust; don’t be afraid. Soon your fortune will be made.’” The duets blend wonderfully, and the several choruses in counterpoint are inspired. The album concludes with a stirring crescendo: “If you want to be loved. If you want to break through. If you want to be heard” before descending gently into the song’s simple message: “Listen. Listen. Listen.”

Anya Turner and Robert Grusecki obviously work hard to create memorable songs; like many songwriters today, they deliver them with every bit of themselves. My advice is to find out for yourself.  If you can’t see them live, Listen is the next best thing.

Jerry Osterberg

After decades in the banking field, singing in a chorale, and writing on just about every subject under the sun, Jerry left finance and decided to devote himself to the American Songbook. Countless workshops in singing and writing later, he began contributing articles to the New York Sheet Music Society and to write reviews and feature stories for Cabaret Scenes. Jerry is now the Contributing Editor for the monthly newsletter of the NYSMS, continues to perform in chorus, and is currently researching a biography of the late American pop singer Jo Stafford.