Nomological Net

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faults in the clouds of delusion

Friday, December 22, 2006

Lehrerosity

I had meant to title this post 'Virtuosity'. It had been supposed to be (beat that for convoluted) about Tom Lehrer ("America's most brilliant creative genius in 200 years"). But Odeo would not let me upload a single track of his. So instead here's a bunch of songs - in random order (don't thank me) - that conceivably fall under this head. Once the Lehrer idea started getting thwarted, I thought I'd stick with other instances of cool singing. Later, I decided to bend that rule as well. It's my podcast, anyway. And as you may be able to see, it is still titled Lehrer. Ignore that. Listen to the music - brief descriptions below.


The first three tracks are from the album Hush by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-yo Ma. They start off with a cover of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, then settle into a decidedly more traditional Vivaldi tune. The third track, the highlight for me, is Bach's Musette -- with an identity crisis for the ages up front. Don't miss this.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth tracks are from the album Joan Baez in Concert vol. 2. This is one I grew up with. Every Bengali male I know has at some point wanted to wrap Joanie up and take her home with them, and that's based purely on her Greatest Hits album. (After all, any babe who writes Diamonds and Rust for her man, Bong Dylan, is just the ultimate fantasy.) Believe me, this concert album far surpasses any other recording of hers that you may have heard. It only came out on CD recently, and I gobbled it up like a madman when I saw it.

The tracks I have chosen here are, in sequence, Ate Amanha, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, and Geordie. Ate Amanha is a Portuguese love song that sings of sorrow with wild abandon. My mother used to sing it, stripped of meaning, leaving just the happy bits. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You is actually the first track on the album. (In fact, i wanted it to be the first track on the podcast, but odeo wouldn't let me.) This was recorded five years before Messers Page and Plant got to it (yes, believe it). I heard this version fifteen years before I heard that one. It blows me away every time I hear it. Geordie follows Babe on the album. For me, the transition is organic. What a beautiful song.

The seventh track is Melancholic Ecstacy from the Indian Ocean album Desert Rain. If you haven't heard (of) Indian Ocean, I'm guessing you didn't go to college in India. This is, quite simply, one of the best fusion bands going. My only beef with them is that they don't improvise enough when playing live. But don't let that take anything away from the beauty and the technical perfection of the music. Track 10 is also from the same album.

Tracks 8 and 9 are by the a-capella group The Persuasions, from the album "Might As Well... The Persuasions Sing the Grateful Dead". Check out Ship of Fools and Black Muddy River, and tell me if you see the world the same way again.

*****

That's the list, happy listening. And when you're done with that, here's what I found on Youtube. Tom Lehrer music videos! Ignore the visuals and get yourself a load of:
Pollution
The Masochism Tango
New Math
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park
We Will All Go Together When We Go

and finally, someone else doing the classic I Hold Your Hand In Mine.

There's also a little video available on youtube of the man from more recent times. Enjoy!

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

At last you are speaking of some singers I am familiar with though Tom Lehrer is hardly a singer. A failed mathematician who made a few bucks by other means. Joan Baez: too sweet, I cannot listen to her for more than 10 minutes. Reminds me a bit of Sultana Begum ( I am not sure of the name now, She was a Bengali singer with a very sweet voice).Bob Dylan: genius.
But anyday, I prefer Ritche Havens singing "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child". Long ago, I heard some Southern church music in a dormitory. According to the girl who had the tapes (her father was a composer) that music was much better than what was available commercially then (1970).
Coming back to Bengali music, I love to hear Abbasuddin. There you are;I dropped quite a few names in an area I know very little about. But I enjoy music very much though I know very little about it.

12/22/2006 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Ship of Fools is something else. Have you heard Elvis Costello's version? Almost as good as this one, although in a very different register. :)

12/22/2006 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing these - took care of my morning! i remember falling in love with the persuasions doing bmr at ratdog. havent heard indian ocean in SO long. must pull them out today.:)

12/22/2006 11:38 AM  
Blogger km said...

Indian Ocean? Never heard of them. Of course, when I went to college we only had Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Yeah, Dark Ages.

That last Lehrer song hardly needs a a "helping hand" as a prop. It is funny as it is :D

(Gaddeswarup: you could look at Lehrer not as a "conventional" pop/folk singer but as a satirist. Where do you think Weird Al and the whole genre of parody-rock comes from?)

12/23/2006 12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gaddeswarup -- Tom Lehrer may have been a failed mathematician but he did get invited to Irving Kaplansky's 80th birthday celebration. Watch it here. (It's not quite as good as Tom in his prime, but it's pretty nice. Not sure whether this is the "little video" TR refers to.)

12/23/2006 3:13 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

swarup:
beg to differ -- tom lehrer is a *heckuva* singer. it's hidden behind the amazing wit. have you heard his versions of "clementine"? (i guess km and rahul share my point of view here.)

ws:
yup, i recall that costello version from one of the very first gdh's i ever heard!

k:
oops. gross oversight.

km:
would that be before global warming melted the Indian Glacier down into an ocean?

rahul:
yup, that's the one.

12/23/2006 4:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TR and others,
Sorry for my offhand and slightly nasty comment. Off and on I try to compare my naive impressions with the impressions of others of more expertise. I have not heard Tom Lehrer since early 70's. Those days I heard most of them. Will try again if I get access.

12/23/2006 5:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the post and the music, but I have to agree with gaddeswarup regarding Ms Baez. Her voice grates in my head like a nail being drawn over glass. Used to love her back in the day, but this version of 'babe I'm gonna leave you' just didn't sit well with me.
Sorry I couldn't make it for 'Playing Dead'. Airport duty all night tonight chasing delayed flights.
Are you in town for X'mas?

12/23/2006 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gaddeswarup says Joan Baez is too sweet, mt says she grates... I never liked her much, more for mt's reasons than for gs's. I always found her very loud, shrill, with an overuse of vibrato -- like a bad opera singer. And she absolutely butchered "The night they drove old Dixie down" (including the lyrics). But I like her take on some Dylan songs, and I (somewhat) liked her duets with Dylan in the Rolling Thunder (Live 1975) CD.

12/23/2006 12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize again for my hasty comments since they seem to be drawing some responses. Somehow, TR draws me out and I keep hoping that very few will notice my remarks. I have not really listened to any of these singers since early 70's. I still read Bob Dylan's lyrics and recently bought a tape of Abbasuddin which I cannot find. That is about all my acquintance with the music mentioned. Cheers.
Swarup

12/23/2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

swarup:
please, you do not have to apologize! nothing that you said is in the least bit offensive in any way. you merely expressed your opinions, and i personally am glad you did so!

do check out the tom lehrer links at the bottom of the post. they're as good as the original if you keep your eyes closed :-)

rahul, mt:
i agree by and large with your take on joan baez, although i'm partial to her on occasion. this concert album, though, is a keeper.

mt:
nope, we're off. hope you had a good day yesterday :-) we didn't make it to the playing dead thing either.

to no one in particular:
funny, no comments on the musette... no intersection of interests, i wonder?

12/23/2006 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McFerrin is a genius. You may want to check out also the release "Play" which features highlights from a concert tour with Chick Corea.

12/23/2006 11:45 PM  
Blogger km said...

I am not a big fan of hers either, but when she starts singing "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" at Woodstock, it's pure magic. No posturing, just pure and simple singing. (Though it is odd how she already seemed almost archaic amidst the other Woodstock performers.)

(Gaddeswarup, no offense taken...I think everyone here is passionate about music...which is as it should be!)

12/24/2006 2:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TR,
Thanks for the links.
KM,
Yes, lot of people are passionate about music; that is why one should be careful about commenting on what others like.
I guess that I have always been tempted by commincating with people of different backgrounds and idioms.
I remember that back in the 60's I was wandering around College Street in Calcutta looking at second hand books. Suddenly somebody started talking to me. It was a truck driver from Mumbai (where I was working at that time). I did not know either Hindi or Bengali. He seemed to be saying that we were both foreigners there and should have some chai or some such thing. First I tried to brush him off and then it seemed interesting that I could communicate with somebody in a language that I did not know. I went for tea with him and he wantedme to help him buy a watch. He liked my watch and wanted to see how it fitted him. Suddenly he had a coughing fit and went out to spit and never came back. But I continue my attempts at communication.
Merry Christmas and happy new year.

12/24/2006 5:21 AM  
Blogger the flying monkeys said...

Very interesting post...compliments of the season my good friend...hope you have a great one!!

12/24/2006 6:26 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ws:
thanks for the reco -- added to my wishlist :-D

km:
that's exactly it -- the "pure and simple singing". that's how i would have described the "geordie" in the podcast if i had thought of it! i love that song.

swarup:
another great story! he gained a watch and you gained a story. i bet he was a professional.

tfm:
welcome back -- and season's greetings to you as well :-)

12/24/2006 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tr - about the musette -- I confess I didn't actually listen to any of it, I'm at home with a 256kbps connection, which is good for most things but not for odeo which has a screwed-up buffering algorithm (and pausing to let it load doesn't seem to work, unlike with youtube).

Just heard a bit now. I had heard the studio album (I think) by these two, years ago, and assumed it was the same, but it seems different. But I couldn't hear it through to the end.

12/24/2006 4:18 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

yup, tis the same.

12/24/2006 7:47 PM  

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