Known in his native San Diego as “The Velvet Throat,” the late Warren Wiebe sang at Carnegie Hall and at Sonny Bono’s funeral. Celine Dion said he had the most beautiful voice she had ever heard. Quincy Jones, who called him the “Soulful Rain Man,” tapped him to record on “Q’s Juke Joint.” He was David Foster’s right hand studio guy. Wiebe was the premiere session singer in the 1990s, yet the average music fan may never have heard of him because he never recorded an album of his own before his untimely death in 1998.
Maryland based singer Eva Cassidy set the standard in the early 2000s for posthumous success by becoming a worldwide, platinum selling sensation years after she passed. Wiebe likewise deserves much wider recognition, and thanks to the Spanish based label Contante & Sonante, his gorgeous, emotionally rangy voice has been celebrated quite well over the past decade and a half on demo driven albums celebrating the pop songwriting genius of everyone from Foster and Steve Dorff to Burt Bacharach and Tom Snow.
Marking the 20th anniversary of his passing, the new collection Original Demos featuring Warren Wiebe celebrates his life, industry impact and transcendent, soul-stirring vocal gifts via 14 tracks (eight never before released) written or co-written by a multitude of songwriting legends – including Foster, Bacharach (with Tonio K), Dorff and Snow = and some lesser known but no less brilliant talents like Scott Fuller, Guy Thomas (including “The Day I First Saw You,” a collaboration with Toto lead singer Joseph Williams) and Tim Feehan.
None of these tunes were mainstream Top 40 hits, but they could have and should have been. These are called demos, but they feel fresh and fully produced. Though the album is designed as a showcase for Wiebe’s artistry, it also reveals his genius for vocal interpretation and storytelling, his intuitive way of exploring within himself the emotions penned by others.
Most people aware of Wiebe’s work immediately make the Foster connection, and so not surprisingly, those tunes, the gorgeous ballads “The Colour of My Love” (which Celine declined because she felt she couldn’t top Wiebe’s perfection) and “Live Each Day,” are upfront. Wiebe’s soulful flow and rich intimate tones made him a ballad master, and the collection showcases that side of his artistry quite amply, via gems by, among others, Bacharach and Tonio K (“Love Made Me Wait”), Dorff (“The Echo of Your Whisper,” “A Little Thing Called Life”) and Feehan (“Make A Wish”). One of the most compelling of these is “Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do,” a gorgeous slice of pop soul Wiebe sings as a towering duet with the song’s co-writer Cecily Gardner.
Yet Wiebe was quite the pop-rocker too, having a blast rolling through the feisty hooks of “Lorelei” and the power ballad “The Day I First Saw You” (both by Thomas) and Snow’s playful, bluesy “Spend a Little Time With You,” a duet with powerhouse vocalist Shaun Murphy, with lyrics by Dean Pitchford. If there’s a follow-up to this splendid Original Demos, and more Wiebe magic in the vaults, it would be great to hear more of his rock side.
There’s a certain sense of melancholy when one listens and feels emotionally drawn to a brilliant voice that has moved on - but the focus here should be on Wiebe’s tremendous gifts through songs that truly can live on and continue inspiring, thanks to the thoughtful curation of Contante & Sonante.