Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Shel Silverstein & Red Onions|
Genres: Country, Folk, Jazz, Pop
Beatnik Hipsters Throw A Ragtime Jazz Party In NYC
Mike B. | 05/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1959 Elektra Records released Shel Silverstein's first album "Hairy Jazz". The label had previously issued genteel, traditional folk music - so it was surprising when they green-lighted a recording of boisterous ragtime jazz. Backed by the 7-piece Red Onion Jazz Band, Silverstein hollered and leered his way through 10 standards and 2 originals. But first, a little background...
Shel was a native Chicagoan who started drawing in his early teens, and continued to do so for the Army when he was stationed in Japan and Korea in the early 1950's. His comical cartoons of military life appeared in the newspaper "Stars And Stripes". In 1956 he started a long-time stint as a cartoonist for Playboy magazine. He became a resident of NYC's Greenwich Village and maintained an apartment there his whole life, in addition to later homes in Sausalito and Key West. In early 1959 he became involved with a "revue" in collaboration with radio personality and humorist Jean Shepherd. Called "Look, Charlie", the show played off-Off-Broadway and featured songs and monologues with musical accompaniment by the Red Onions. Later that year Elektra rented a midtown space for Shel and the Onions, and basically threw a 2-day party with the tape machine rolling. Elektra founder Jac Holzman edited the tapes himself.
The result is a rare glimpse into the New York "beat" scene circa 1959, and boy is it fun. With trumpet, clarinet, trombone, tuba, banjo, piano, bass and drums, the Red Onions raise holy hell - with Shel's raspy vocals clear above the fray. The band sounds great - swinging and cool. Every hipster in town showed up to watch the session and partake of the free food and booze, and Shel and the onlookers harangue each other with catcalls and ribaldry. A rowdy good time was had by all!
Silverstein fans shouldn't lament that he only wrote 2 of the songs ("Broken Down Mama" and "Pass Me By"). To hear his take on some of the "traditional" numbers, you would think he had written them. In fact, he takes so many liberties with their lyrics and arrangements that essentially they are original compositions. This is a terrific CD, and Water Records did a great job remastering. It also includes Jean Shepherd's liner notes.
Shel Silverstein released a good amount of albums, but only 4 of them are truly great. This is one, as is the follow-up "Inside Folk Songs" (1962), which contains all originals. Songs like "Have Another Espresso", "It Does Not Pay To Be Hip", and "Bury Me In My Shades" are hilarious and among the best he's written. Johnny Cash went on to record 2 songs from this album: "25 Minutes To Go" and "Boa Constrictor". It's also been re-issued on CD and shouldn't be missed. My favorite of all was his "live" album recorded in a small club - 1965's "I'm So Good That I Don't Have To Brag". "The Great Conch Train Robbery" (1980) was his last great one.
Beware the rest of his output. Shel's best when he's funny. Anytime he attempts serious or sentimental the results are a maudlin bore. Other records are marred by getting too lewd and crass, while others are ruined because he doesn't sing - but chooses to "narrate" them in a loud screechy talking style. Because they manage to avoid these pitfalls, the above 4 are the ones to get.
You probably know Shel Silverstein as the author of best-selling children's books, or as the writer of Cash's "A Boy Named Sue". Comparatively few people have heard him sing. With the exception of Dave Van Ronk, no one else sounds like him. Both were full-throttle guys with roaring vocals who lived life to the fullest, and both explored jazz and folk during the same era. They were friends, and Van Ronk recorded half of his 1963 classic "In The Tradition" with the Red Onions (now available only as the first 12 tracks of the 2002 re-issue "Two Sides Of Dave Van Ronk"). The main difference between the two is that Dave was a scholar of such artists as Bessie Smith and Jelly Roll Morton who told funny anecdotes in-between serious songs (in concert), while Shel wrote and sang mostly funny songs.
If you want to laugh and have a good time, there's no one more amusing and entertaining - and "Hairy Jazz" is a good place to start."
The show must go on!
Johnny Heering | Bethel, CT United States | 10/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was the first album recorded by Shel Silverstein, the legendary poet, artist, songwriter, children's book author, etc. Shel is backed by a dixieland jazz band here, singing mostly off-color versions of "traditional" songs (he did write two of the songs himself). The band provides raucous, swinging accompaniment. Shel doesn't have a traditionally pretty voice, but he sounds "ragged but right". This is a very enjoyable album for Uncle Shelby's fans."
Play That Thing!!!
C. McLaughlin | 01/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Wonderful music created by a group of friends whose enjoyment
is contagious! Shel's lyrical innuendos take us back to the
Good Ole Days of Jazz! The banjo player, Steve Larner, excels
here just as he did in his cinematography. The other
members combine talents to make this a fun listening experience!"