Barone has new role as troubadour

Since the release of “Glow,” Richard Barone has been exploring yet another side of his performing pe

Richard Barone, former frontman of ’80s alternative pop-rockers The Bongos, has worn many hats in his professional career — including DJ, record producer, concert producer and most recently professor at New York University.

Since The Bongos split in 1987, Barone has also pursued a varied solo career — from his unorthodox 1987 live debut, “Cool Blue Halo,” to a long-awaited collaboration with producer Tony Visconti on 2010’s “Glow.”

His live performances have seen him team with a wide array of bands that push the boundaries of the usual guitar-bass-drums rock group, including the “Cool Blue Halo” quartet, which featured Barone on lead vocals and electric guitar, Jane Scarpantoni on cello, Nick Celeste on backing vocals and acoustic guitar and Valerie Naranjo on percussion, vibes and piano.

Richard Barone, with Blue Factory

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Valentine’s, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

How Much: $9

More Info: 432-6572,

Since the release of “Glow,” Barone has been exploring yet another side of his performing personality that had, perhaps surprisingly, never surfaced before — the troubadour. It began with solo shows in the winter of 2010 opening for Alejandro Escovedo, and Barone has continued in this singer-songwriter vein ever since, alongside occasional band performances.

Telling stories

“The great thing about the troubadour setting for me is that it lets me tell a few stories as well as sing the songs,” he said recently from WMHT Studios in East Greenbush.

“Now, I don’t mean — they’re not like particularly long stories or rambling stories, but I’m able to explain the songs in a way that’s very casual, as opposed to when there’s a band onstage waiting to play. It just changes the dynamic about it. My relationship with the audience is altered when there’s a lot of people onstage — there’s another part of my personality that kicks in when I’m with a lot of people onstage, as opposed to when it’s just me alone onstage, or with one or two other people.”

Often he does bring guests onstage with him, usually at the last minute — he’s shared the stage with cellists, violinists and former Bongos members at past solo performances. So he’s not really sure what his appearance downstairs at Valentine’s on Saturday night will be like, although it is billed as a solo performance.

“I’m going to experiment with some other instruments coming up soon, maybe in Albany,” he said. ‘Maybe here I might have another instrument — I’m not really sure what, but it may be different.”

Barone is just as loose when it comes to his set lists — he of course draws from The Bongos and his solo career but will often switch things up with unrehearsed cover songs chosen on a whim.

With that said, “Cool Blue Halo” will be a focus during this show. Last year, Barone celebrated the critically acclaimed album’s 25th anniversary with an expanded reissue, featuring the original 11-song concert that was recorded live at the Bottom Line in New York City in May of 1987, and a reunion concert with the original band at City Winery in New York City.

The concert, also released last year in a two-CD, one DVD set, was recorded last May and featured guest performances by Visconti, Band keyboardist Garth Hudson and former Bongos bassist Rob Norris, among others.

“Everybody wanted to do it immediately, so the only tricky thing was, how do we schedule rehearsals and stuff?” Barone said of reuniting The Bongos.

“Because Jane lives in Woodstock, and Valerie does have a tight television and touring schedule too, because she’s on the show [playing with the band on ‘Saturday Night Live’] every week and rehearses with them, but then she does other tours. . . . Nick Celeste was the easiest because we work together all the time.”

Rehearsal may have been a bit of a moot point, though, as the original “Cool Blue Halo” was a mostly improvised affair. That, along with the radically different sound of the album, had made Barone and the rest of the band wary of what reactions would be when the album was first released.

“I could tell that we were making it up as we went along,” Barone said. “I [can] tell when I hear it, still — I like it though, but I can tell that I was just feeling out when I was gonna sing and what I was gonna sing.”

Initially, he hadn’t even thought about the anniversary but was approached by Jay Frank, former Yahoo! Music president and current president of Country Music Television while performing at South By Southwest in 2011.

“He was a fan of the ‘Cool Blue Halo’ album, and he came backstage to ask me what I was doing for the 25th anniversary,” Barone said. “And I just — I kind of internally giggled because I didn’t want to insult him, but the thing is, I hadn’t really thought about an anniversary with any of the albums, and I hadn’t really considered the fact that 25 years had passed, because I hadn’t really stopped doing things. But I said, ‘I don’t know, what do you have in mind?’ And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you . . .’ ‘I think he pretty much had the idea already fully fleshed out.”

Remastering original

The first step, remastering the original album, was challenging in and of itself — the original master tapes were designed by Ampex to be more environmentally sound, but the formulation also caused the tape to stick together. The process of reviving the tapes is shown in “I Belong to Me: The ‘Cool Blue Halo’ Story,” a documentary about the making of the album, the reissue and the reunion concert.

“You can actually see us putting the reel on for the first time, and it grinds to a halt, because that’s how gummy the tape becomes,” Barone said.

“So it has to be put into an oven and baked, and you know, it’s kind of scary when you put a reel of tape into an oven, a convection oven, at a high temperature and let it cook, but that’s kind of what brings it back to life. And when it did come back to life, it’s never sounded better.”

Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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