Review : Various Artists - Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein
PitchforkLast summer, visitors to Chicago's photogenic Millennium Park were treated to the unlikely sight of Will Oldham performing to a crowd composed largely of kids and their picnicking parents. The occasion was a celebration of the Chicago-born Shel Silverstein, and therein lies the writer's broad appeal. Silverstein, of course, wrote some of the most beloved children's books of all time (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Missing Piece, A Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree), but his cartoons and poems also appeared regularly in the pages of Playboy. Silverstein wrote plenty of songs, too, ranging from kiddie fare (the diaper-set staple "Boa Constrictor") to songs made famous by the likes of Loretta Lynn ("One's On the Way"), Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show ("The Cover of 'Rolling Stone'"), and Johnny Cash, who famously recorded both "25 Minutes to Go" and "A Boy Named Sue".
It's the late Silverstein's friendship and frequent collaboration with singer Bobby Bare that brought about Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein and its attendant all-star cast. Bare recorded several of Silverstein's songs, beginning in the early 1970s, and eventually son Bobby Bare, Jr. got in on the act too. Between the two of them-- and of course taking into account Silverstein's enduring appeal-- an uncommonly good line-up of other friends and followers quickly came on board. Alas, Oldham's not here, but plenty of Silverstein peers (such as John Prine and Kris Kristofferson, both of whom had written with Silverstein) are, plus younger fans (like My Morning Jacket and Andrew Bird), with Silverstein's whimsical but memorable compositions given an array of welcome if mostly safe readings.
Perhaps most unconventional is Bird's take on the title track, if only because Bird apparently knew Silverstein only as a writer and crafted his own Bird-like tune around the poem he picked. Yet several other tracks here reveal a few subtle new facets of Silverstein and performer alike. My Morning Jacket, for example, recorded a version of "Lullabys, Legends and Lies" true to its roots (it was the title track of Bare's 1973 collection of Silverstein songs), but much more straight-up country than the band is generally known for (MMJ closes the album with a similarly conservative-- duration aside-- "26 Second Song"). Frank Black and Joey Santiago turn "The Cover of the 'Rolling Stone'" inside out, into a strange conflation of Black's own country forays and Santiago's trademark skronk. Dr. Dog turns the folky "Unicorn Song" into a kitschy 60s trip....full text
LatimesblogsOnce upon a time, there lived a crazily talented man named Shel Silverstein, known for his bald head, bushy beard and large, wild eyes — perceptive tools with which he surveyed the world and then turned what he saw into deliciously inventive and idiosyncratic poems, stories, children's books and songs.
Although Silverstein — who died in 1999 at age 68 — is most widely known today for the classic children's books "The Giving Tree" and "A Light in the Attic," his songs were widely admired by those familiar with them and resulted in a surprising number of hits, given the craggy, offbeat personality with which he infused them.
This salute to the musical side of his multifaceted career was spearheaded by Silverstein's longtime champion, country singer Bobby Bare, and his son, alt-rocker Bobby Bare Jr.
Bare Sr. has recorded many of Silverstein's compositions throughout his own career, most notably in his 1973 double album "Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies," which consisted exclusively of Silverstein's colorful character sketches and brilliant wordplay.
It's a testament to the broad-based respect many musicians have for Silverstein that this set brings esteemed country-folk veterans such as Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Ray Price, Nanci Griffith and Lucinda Williams together with younger-generation indie rockers including My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, Dr. Dog and half of the Pixies....full text
AmericansongwriterShel Silverstein distinguished himself not just as a beloved children’s book author, cartoonist, and poet, but as a witty country songwriter. His funny but powerful songs were interpreted memorably by the cream of the outlaw-country crop in the 1960s and ‘70s, and on this 2010 tribute, recorded a little more than a decade after his death, his work is given new life by both his contemporaries and members of the next generation–literally, in the case of Bobby Bare, Jr.–of roots-rock royalty.
Some of the tracks will be familiar to country fans. The chart-topping 1969 Johnny Cash cut “A Boy Named Sue” is redone ably by singer-songwriter Todd Snider, who fleshes out Cash’s sparse,off-the-cuff arrangement with banjos and mandolins. Up-and-coming Americana star Sarah Jarosz sings the plaintive tale of “Queen Of The Silver Dollar,” once a concert staple for Emmylou Harris.
My Morning Jacket, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Nanci Griffith, and Lucinda Williams contribute straight-ahead and respectful covers, but the highlights here are the tracks that honor Silverstein with inspired reworkings. Andrew Bird’s graceful rendering of “The Twistable, Turnable Man Returns” transforms the jokey original by providing a new whirligig melody that floats and flutters, recasting the titular spineless guy into a poignant, tragic figure rather than a contemptible one. Frank Black stomps his way through “The Cover Of The Rolling Stone,” retaining the country-rock feel of Doctor Hook’s version, but injecting it with a sense of man-in-black menace, helpedalong by a sinewy guitar hook and expressive, echo-laden vocals....full text
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