Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Of Old Dan Tucker, Froggies and Shakespare

A couple of weeks ago I was surfing on the iTunes website because my Christmas gift cards were burning an almighty hole in my pocket. I was trying to decide between about a bazillion different things, and I kept going back to Bruce Springsteen's new album We Shall Overcome : The Bob Seeger Sessions. I had noticed the album was a part of the "best of" editor selections as well as a "best seller" among the iTunes paying public. I went back and forth on this album for a long time. Springsteen was a plus, but did I really want (or need) an album with Bruce singing stuff like:

Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man
washed his face with a frying pan
combed his hair with a wagon wheel
and died with a toothache in his heel

Songs like this might be considered genius amongst the elementary school crowd, but I just wasn't sure. This album is full of stuff like this, including Froggie Went A-Courtin', and Buffalo Gals. There's no On Top of Old Smokey, but it wouldn't have surprised me if there was. All of these songs are a far cry from Shakespeare, and it sure didn't strike me as being very Springsteen. But I figured what the heck. I hoped it wouldn't suck, and I downloaded the album.

Later, while looking for a specific song (that I never did find) I found the album Tread on my Dreams by Melinda Stanford. Who? Yeah, that's what I said too. The entire album was based on poems by famous poets. Shakespeare, Auden, Dylan Thomas, e e cummings, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Frost were all represented, among others. So I looked at this album by a singer I'd never heard (or heard of), singing some amazing texts. I figured what the heck. I hoped it wouldn't suck, and I downloaded the album.

Songs are a funny thing. You have this combination of text, music and performer. For a song to really work, all three have to be right. The music has to complement and enhance the text, and then the performer has to understand everything about both elements and then buy into the premise -- whatever it may be -- present it in a way that is believable. This is usually where things break down. Singers tend to have one style, and it's difficult to jump into a different genre and still sound credible. I have plenty of CDs of opera singers attempting to sing broadway and jazz, and there is always that indescribable performance of Aretha Franklin singing Puccini. *cough*

I'm so happy to say that both purchases have proven to be pure gold. The Springsteen album is one of the most infectiously fun things I have ever listened to. It doesn't have to be about the gritty streets of Philadelphia or a head-banging rock version of Born to Run. It can be John Henry who was a steel drivin' man. It totally works. As for the other album, all I can say is that since I've downloaded it, I've had a very hard time prying my poor iPod out of TinyTuna's greedy music-loving ears. It's good. It's that good. And while some of the poems were familiar to me, others were not. And I'm so happy to have stumbled across some unbelievably profound words set to music that matches it perfectly.

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
by W.B. Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

It's stuff like this that makes me glad I'm a singer.


Anonymous said...

Never heard of the singer. You'll have to bring the IPOD road show along at the next Guild event.

That was kind of how I felt when I first came across Loreena McKennitt...

Anonymous said...

That Yeats poem has been my favorite love poem since I was in my 20s and gave it to a crush. Ah, the memories!

Anonymous said...

Bob Seeger... I'm pretty sure I have one of his albums... he does "Little Boxes" and "Wim-o-weh" and all those protest songs, right? yeah. I think so. I dig that album. Or are we talking about that "Like a Rock" guy? Oh yeah. Bob Seger is "Like a Rock". PETE seeger does all the folk songs.