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Archive for April 22nd, 2010

Review: Tom Lehrer, “The Tom Lehrer Collection”

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The career of Tom Lehrer is an improbable one.  A Harvard mathematics instructor by day and musical satirist by night, Lehrer was never particularly prolific.  His entire output amounts to around 50 songs and a handful of albums which have been repackaged over the years.   Most of his oeuvre was recorded between 1953 and 1965.  Yet he was the recipient of a lavish 3-CD Rhino box set collecting most of his work in one place (The Remains of Tom Lehrer, Rhino R2 79831), and with that set now out-of-print, Shout! Factory bestows the deluxe treatment on him with the 2-disc The Tom Lehrer Collection (Shout 826663-11823). 

So why Lehrer?  One listen will quickly show why his small but important catalog keeps getting anthologized.  I had anticipated that this set would be unnecessary for those who owned Remains, but Shout! has created a terrific companion to the box by including on this set a DVD of eight Lehrer songs and performances that have never before been commercially released.  With 26 tracks on the CD (all repeated from the box set) and one DVD, this is a veritable Lehrer feast.

Lehrer’s stingingly satirical tunes predate Randy Newman but share a similar acerbic wit and dry delivery.  Like Newman, he frequently accompanies himself on an ironically rollicking piano.  A master at marrying tuneful melodies to lyrical zingers, Lehrer jabs racism on “National Brotherhood Week” (“Oh, the white folks hate the black folks/And the black folks hate the white folks/To hate all but the right folks/Is an old established rule”) and the environment on the jaunty “Pollution” (“The city streets are really quite a thrill/If the hoods don’t get you, the monoxide will!”).  There are no sacred cows in Lehrer’s universe; he skewered the Catholic Church with “The Vatican Rag” and wrote what is probably the only jovial music hall number about STDs (!) with “I Got It From Agnes.”  While his delivery sounds somewhat arch to modern ears, his lyrics are almost cringingly current. 

Lehrer indulges his academic side with “The Elements,” literally a list song of 102 chemical elements set to a Gilbert and Sullivan melody, and finds a way to make them comical.  Best of all is the pastoral “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” which its author describes in his pithy track-by-track liner notes as such: “A gay spring song, proselytizing for one of the author’s favorite avocations.”  Lehrer didn’t shy away from the controversial with “Who’s Next?,” a song about the bomb that predates Newman’s own brilliant “Political Science,” and with the aforementioned “Vatican Rag.”  More details on this edition follow after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 22, 2010 at 01:20

Posted in Compilations, Reissues, Reviews

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Review: Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, “Live at the London Palladium”

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Leave it to Bob Dylan.  In his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One, he writes about the experience of listening to Judy Garland: “A couple of times I dropped a coin right into the slot and played ‘The Man That Got Away’ by Judy Garland.  The song always did something to me…listening to Judy was like listening to the girl next door.”  He writes of the song’s composer, Harold Arlen: “In Harold’s songs, I could hear rural blues and folk music…there was an emotional kinship there.”  He continues, “I could never escape from the bittersweet, lonely intense world of Harold Arlen.”  Dylan nails the dichotomy familiar to any fan of Garland: America’s sweetheart singing tortured melodies beyond her years, wringing every last drop of emotion out of each of them.  (In 2009, Dylan would record a Garland standard, the Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane-penned “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, on his Christmas in the Heart, and include the original, somewhat darker lyrics penned for Garland.)

The Second Disc has looked at the world of soundtrack collectors; their fervor is shared by a rabid group of enthusiasts of the genre that can only be described as American popular song, or “standards.”  This label largely refers to the songs that emanated from Tin Pan Alley during the years between the 1920s and the early 1960s, at which time a foursome from Liverpool and a troubadour from Minnesota changed everything.  One of the foremost interpreters of that still-vibrant body of work was Judy Garland, young star of The Wizard of Oz, who by 1965, was recognized as an international star of the concert stage.  That was the year of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium, reissued this week in an expanded edition by DRG Records (DRG 19126).  This represents the last of Garland’s core Capitol albums to appear on CD, and was her final recording for the label.  Garland would tragically die four years later at the age of 47 as her daughter Minnelli’s star ascended, but this release captures both women in a rare joint concert experience.  It was drawn from two concerts at the Palladium on November 6 and 15, 1964, just months after Judy’s acclaimed appearance there on a bill with the Beatles for an all-star charity concert.  Read on after the jump!  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 22, 2010 at 01:14

Posted in Reissues, Reviews

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