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The arc of Frank Shiner's musical artistry swings in that special place where his lifetime of experiences in singing and acting are able to breathe together and tell a story. "As a student of Shakespeare," Shiner explains, "as a student of language, the song is a play, and the lyric is the most important thing to me. If a pretty sound comes out after that, it's a bonus, never the goal."
Shiner is that rare performer whose delivery evokes a certain classiness associated with Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Mel Tormé. Yet Shiner is lyrically rooted in the generation that belongs to Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, and Randy Newman, just a few of the composers whose work is showcased by the singer.
Shiner's debut single, "Driving Home for Christmas," was a holiday evergreen from the pen of Chris Rea, British singer-songwriter. The song was producer Gary Katz. Shiner donated all Christmas 2013 proceeds to St. Jude Children's Hospital in honor of his late father.
The Real Me, Frank Shiner's aptly titled debut album on Bakerson Records is a blues-jazz program. It concentrates on a new breed of standards, from the "deliciously jazzy" simplicity of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," to the "cool, sexy" rhythms of Tom Waits' "Temptation."
Taken together, the songs each describe chapters in Shiner's decades long love affair" with his wife Suzanne. A cancer survivor, her illness led Shiner to rekindle his career which he had abandoned twenty years before, when he set out on a successful business career to support his family. Recording these near-biographical songs with producer Gary Katz was the realization of a dream that only resurfaced three years ago in 2010. Katz, best known for his work with Steely Dan, has also produced for Harry Connick Jr., Laura Nyro, Joe Cocker, and others.
Shiner met the challenge of the recording process with the same straightforward resilience that sent him up to the bandstand during an open mic night at a small suburban nightspot in 2010. After half a lifetime of dreams deferred, Shiner's mind was flooded with thoughts of his father telling him thirty years before, "Follow your heart."
There is no overstating the influence that Shiner's father Francis had on his son, growing up in rural Mountain Top, PA. Shiner calls the strappingly big man "my best friend, and the best man I've ever known...his story is a book in itself." Home was isolated by hundreds of acres of woods, with scant radio or TV reception. Shiner, the baby of the family with three older sisters, recalls the simple pleasure of his father singing Vernon Dalhart's country-western weeper "The Letter Edged in Black" to the four of them. "And the girls would just sit there and bawl. And then I would cry watching them cry. It wasn't the song that got me as much as watching my sisters cry. I think that is when I learned just how powerful a lyric can be."
Starting at age ten, Shiner worked side-by-side with his father in the family-owned bakery in Wilkes-Barre. (Hence, Bakerson Records!) The son soaked up business knowledge and sales sense from his father and mother. Into Catholic high school, ever the class clown, Shiner's musical universe expanded. His teachers nurtured his musical talent in "seasonal singers and chorus," and when Shiner was cast as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, "I finally felt at home, when I stood on that stage and heard the audience reaction, I said, ok this is what I want to do."
When he arrived at Kings College, his practical side took over as a pre-law major, but was quickly scotched in favor of becoming a Theatre Arts major. Training in the classics (Molière, Shakespeare), "that's where I really started to develop as an actor." After graduating, he moved to NYC in 1982, six months later met Suzanne (who immigrated to NYC from Arkansas). They wed two years later.
Shiner quickly earned his SAG, AFTRA and Actors' Equity cards. He played more than fifty theatre and television roles (As 'Matthew Shiner'), including one musical for which he learned to play guitar as a country singer. Bartending helped pay the bills, as did a commission sales job. He eventually developed his own product invention.
With one child to raise and another on the way, Shiner decided to put his career on the back burner – where it would stay for two decades. "There were never any regrets", says Shiner.
In 2009, Suzanne began a battle with cancer "a truly life altering experience that changes your perspective on everything." The deepness of the couple's relationship courses through nearly every song on The Real Me. Suzanne went through hell, which makes her prodding of her husband that night at the bandstand in 2010 even more moving and climactic. She pulled on his heartstrings saying it would bring her great joy if he would sing. Only that got him up on the bandstand. The bandleader rushed out to the parking lot afterwards to collar Shiner before he disappeared and went on to recruit him for months. One day he said "Frank, music heals the soul." The singer finally took the advice to heart, with all that he and his wife were going through with her illness.
A few months later, Shiner lost his best friend when Francis passed away. At the funeral, the son was given his father's wedding ring. At one of his first gigs, Shiner slipped on the ring along with his own, thinking it would give him strength. "From that point on I have worn both rings every time I sing, in remembrance of my father."
"I go about life from my heart," says Frank Shiner. "I love hard, I suffer from anger, I suffer from loving too much, I suffer from worry, but it's all from my heart, it's all real. Sometimes it's a rollercoaster, but I don't think you experience life without that part. A lot of people just kind of skip over the top of the water but I can't. I gotta dive deep." Frank Shiner wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see. And now, with The Real Me, for all to hear as well.
– Arthur Levy (November 2013)