Taking A Chance On Love 78 by Benny Goodman

September 7, 2011

Benny Goodman was considered the King of Swing by 1935. His 1937 concert at Carnegie Hall was one of the most influential in American music history as it brought jazz into the American mainstream.

On June 12, 1943, one of his bigggest hits climbed to the top of the signles charts. “Taking A Chance On Love” was a typical Goodman sound as it was a moderate up-tempo swing piece with Helen Forrests vocal breaking up the instrumental sections. It topped the charts for three weeks.

Goodman would go on to perform until near the end of his life during 1986. I remember seeing him on THE TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson. Given his legendary stature I wish I had payed more attention at the time.

At Carnegie Hall by The Weavers

June 7, 2009

Every once in awhile, and I have to be in the mood, I pull this old war horse off the shelf and give it a spin.

The Weavers were an important and transitional folk group. They were a connector of the early folk traditions of many countries and the style of Woody Guthrie to the pop type folk of The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Banjo player and tenor vocalist Pete Seeger, bass vocalist Lee Hays, baritone vocalist and guitarist Fred Hellerman, and alto vocalist Ronnie Gilbert formed the group in 1948 and within a year they were stars due to their cover of the old Ledbelly tune, “Goodnight Irene.” Fame was fleeting as their leftist political beliefs and songs of protest were not appreciated during the McCarthy era. They found themselves blacklisted as performers plus their label fired them. In fact, The Decca label deleted all of the group’s material from their catalogue. They would disband in 1952.

A different political climate would begin to permeate The United States during the mid-1950s. This would prompt the group to re-unite for their historic concert at Carnegie Hall on December 24, 1955. This concert would be released on the Vanguard label as The Weavers At Carnegie Hall in 1957. In many ways this concert and album signaled the beginning of the folk revival movement in The United States.

The Weavers sang traditional folk songs but with two, three, and four part harmonies which was a unique approach at the time. Their voices would entwine and even challenge each other. They would support their sound with Seeger’s long neck banjo and Hellerman’s Spanish guitar.

The amazing thing about this early live release is the sound. This 1955 concert has a clearer sound than many concert recordings that would follow over the next half century. You can actually hear the group members pronounce each word clearly which is important to the stories that the songs tell. I can’t help but think that the acoustics at Carnegie Hall helped a great deal in this area. In addition the album notes are extensive and informative.

The Weavers At Carnegie Hall is a long album for its time as there are twenty tracks contained on a single disc.

Side one has a number of interesting performances. The old Irish folk tune, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” was given some new lyrics by Lee Hays. This continued the folk tradition of artists constantly changing old songs and then passing them on to the next generation for more changes. The old and famous English song, “Greensleeves” is given a sweet and traditional performance. “Wimoweh” is an old African folk song which would become a huge hit for The Tokens under the name “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Here it receives an inspirational rendition of hope and resurrection. The old Hebrew song, “Shalom Chavarim,” was appropriate for the seasons of Christmas and Chanukah.

Side two contained a number of solo performances by the members of the group. “Sixteen Tons” by Fred Hellerman makes me forget the famous version by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Pete Seeger shows what a wonderful instrumentalist he could be on “Woody’s Rag.” Ronnie Gilbert brings the purity of her voice to the simple ballad, “I Know Where I’m Going.” I have gotten so used to “When The Saints Go Marching In” being presented as jazz that The Weavers gospel interpretation always stands out. They end the concert with their biggest hit, “Goodnight Irene.”

The Weavers At Carnegie Hall is now an album of long ago and a simpler time yet for aficionado’s of folk music, appreciators of American musical history, or just people in search of good music, it remains a fine listen. Carl Sandberg may have summed it up best when he wrote; “The Weavers are out of the grass roots of America. I salute them for their great work in authentic renditions of ballads, folk songs, ditties, nice antiques of word and melody. When I hear America singing, The Weavers are there.”

In Person At Carnegie Hall by The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem

May 31, 2009

My decision to review this album was based on the historic nature of the era rather than the music. Let me say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised by In Person At Carnegie Hall by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. It was not only a nice picture of the times, but it was extremely entertaining and held my attention for about two hours. Not many albums can make such a statement.

A vinyl version of this album has been in my collection for decades. I must have picked it up at a garage or tag sale and probably played it once before filing it away. This 2009 two-disc CD release is nothing like the original issue, however. The two sets that made up their St. Patrick’s Day concert of 1963 are presented in their entirety. That’s two hours of music versus less than forty minutes on the original. The dialogue between songs is also presented intact, which gives the proceeding a more authentic and intimate feel.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were stars in their native Ireland. They were a traditional folk group specializing in Irish songs of love, work, drink, and rebellion. Their songs of rebellion had a little bite behind them despite the upbeat nature of their presentation. They were also very Catholic and their jokes and conversation about this fact sound interesting in the context the future political troubles of their country. They also make fun of President John Kennedy about nine months before his assassination, which underscores the simplicity of the time.

The first set’s highlights include the purity of their vocal harmonies on the traditional “Haulin’ The Bowline,” the musical comedy of “Mr. Moses Re – Tooral – I Ay,” and the humorous but pithy political statement of “Johnson’s Motor Car.” As well, the dialogue between many of these tracks is some of the best ever recorded live.

The second set is led off by the brilliant “Children’s Medley,” a mini musical for friends gathered around the fireplace. And songs such as “Jolly Prince Charlie,” “The Whistling Gypsy,” “The Jolly Tinker,” and “The Parting Glass” still hit the spot over four decades later.

In Person At Carnegie Hall finally gives The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem their due as this classic concert is restored to its entirety. The booklet with liner notes includes an excellent history of the group and of this performance. A special note by Liam Clancy, who is the only surviving member of the group, is poignant.

While the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem would never gain immense popularity in the United States, they would sell out concert halls and be a highly influential folk group to many of the emerging artists in the 1960’s, including Bob Dylan, who once stated that Liam Clancy was the best ballad singer in folk music. The original release ultimately reached Number Sixty on the Billboard charts and they went on to accept an invitation to play at the White House before President Kennedy.

I would recommend In Person At Carnegie Hall as a definite buy. Not only is it a glimpse into a musical era long gone, but it offers an entertaining way to wile away a couple of hours.