Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lyric Lover

As a younger listener, when asked whom I liked, I always named Paul Simon, Don McLean, Loudon Wainwright III, and Randy Newman. These were the artists whose new releases I eagerly snapped up. I was invested in their music, and still am today.

I will never forget once having a new Paul Simon record and sitting my father down for a listen. Here, I thought, was surely music that would cause him to admit that my heroes were every bit the artist that his were. (You know, Frank Sinatra and his lot.)

Dad hung in there as I bubbled forth. Then, after sitting respectfully through one last song, he fielded my big question, "So, Dad, what do you think?"

"I think he sounds like Paul Simon," was the response.

I walked away shaking my head at his riddle but over time I finally figured it out. I needed to understand where Dad was coming from. Ella Fitzgerald and her songbooks was my first gateway artist to his music. My journey began in my junior year of college, and it has never stopped.

If asked now to name whom I like, I sometimes sidestep the question by saying, "I like anyone who can communicate a lyric. I admire singers who get you involved immediately in the message when they deliver a lyric. There are very few who have had this impact on me: when they sing, I remember the words afterwards. They move me on the spot."

The singer-songwriters that I mentioned at the outset did that for me. I will always treasure sitting down with their new releases, and listening over and over again, letting the lyrics sink in, feeling the rhythm and considering the production. (Yep, I studied those liner notes!) I still approach their music the same way today.

My father was saying, though, that they're limited because no one else can perform their songs. They have a distinct sensibility that begins and ends with them. Was my Dad right? It's a provocative point of view that I continually ponder as my boomer artists enter senior citizenhood. Will the songs begin and end with them?

Anyway, my stable of favorite musical artists expanded greatly once I started listening to Ella Fitzgerald. I immediately jumped to Frank Sinatra and completely understood what my Dad saw in him. Then I just continued onward, dedicating myself to finding these great singers.

Early on I fell in love with Bobby Short. Like Ella, he did a series of songbooks (some 20 years after the First Lady of Song). I loved how he did not only familiar songs associated with the great songwriters, but lesser known numbers. I drilled these songs into my head. It was so pleasurable singing along to them because the lyrics were so clever. I mean, someone like Ira Gershwin--you'll always find him reaching for the humor and clever rhyme.

This morning I slapped on some vinyl: an album called Bobby Short is K-R-A-Z-Y for Gershwin. I just had to hear "Come the Revolution" and sing along. (Was it due to the political talk show I had just been listening to?) Here's a patch of lyric from it.

Comes the revolution
Everything is jake
Comes the revolution
We'll be eating cake
When the streets and rivers run with red
I'll be underneath the bed
Butcher and the baker, undertaker too
Thank their Lord and maker
under skies of blue
Come the revolution
All is jake
And soon we'll be eating cake?

Anyhow, Bobby Short is one singer who gets the lyric across immediately. I can't tell exactly why. I know that a part of it is his arrangement. He always has a clever way to breathe life into a song.

If you haven't given Bobby a serious listen, try him out. Maybe soon you'll have your own personal listening revolution, as I had mine!

No comments: