Monday, October 27, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, Post #13: The Bs, Part 10

#1: The Amherst Saxophone Quartet- "An American Classic- Eubie Blake", 1981:


James Hubert "Eubie" Blake was one of the great ragtime pianists and composers. He lived a long life, 1887 to 1983, and there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in his work in the 1970s and '80s as he became an elder statesman of American popular music. This album consists of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet playing a wide selection of Blake's work- not only some of his classic rags, but semiclassical pieces, and songs from his Broadway shows (the most famous of which is the perennial vaudevillian tune "I'm Just Wild About Harry"). Personally I prefer the classic sound of ragtime played on piano, but the quartet has an amusing style that's fun to listen to.

#2: Eubie Blake- "Live Concert", 1974:

This is the man himself- Eubie Blake at 87 years old, still full of life and energy and good humor. It was the first, perhaps only, live concert album he ever made, and it's a delight. He only plays a handful of pieces, but does quite a bit of banter and storytelling between numbers which is equally entertaining.

#3: Bob and Ray- "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife", 1976:

If you're reading this, it must be because you're a friend of mine. And if you're a friend of mine, you're probably the kind of person who already knows Bob and Ray and has been a fan of theirs for years. But just in case you're not...
Bob Elliott (still living as of this writing) and Ray Goulding (deceased) were satirical comedians on radio, and occasionally stage and television for more than 35 years. They specialized in somewhat understated, deadpan humor- they were perhaps not traditional "comedians" in the sense that they were not broad or zany, not always going for the biggest laughs, but their subtle absurdist wit has gained many devoted followers over the years, myself included.
One of the regular features of their shows over the years were parodies of golden-age radio soap operas. There used to be a soap called "Backstage Wife" about a character named Mary Noble- Bob and Ray switched it around and did sketches about "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife." This album collects a bunch of those sketches. I think they exemplify the genius of Bob and Ray's humor very well. If one were to record an average conversation among human beings and transcribe it literally, one would find everyday speech filled with oddly humorous things that don't make sense. Bob and Ray are brilliant at taking the inanities of normal speech and behavior and exaggerating it just enough to accentuate the absurdity and make it funny. And decades before Seinfeld, Bob and Ray were experts at presenting sketches in which nothing really happens. Characters discuss a situation, mull it over, try to solve its problems, maybe express mild concern, but don't really accomplish very much. Which is particularly funny considering this is supposedly a dramatic soap opera.
So I got a lot of laughs out of this album, and I think I should definitely add more Bob and Ray to my collection.

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