Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: Doubloon
Born aloft by vigorous performances from Garth Hudson, Richard Thompson, Kimmie Rhodes and Dave Davies, The Beautiful Old is one of those grand ideas that truly had no business getting off the ground. Recruiting a scattered cast to record faithful, front parlor versions of songs from the sheet-music era? Yeah (condescending pause), good luck. Yet in defiance of logic, cynicism and geography, The Beautiful Old succeeds not only as a damn fine collection of music, but also stands as an enduring testament to overcoming the improbable.
Did you ever wonder what the lyrics were to the old song, “(The Man on) The Flying Trapeze”? You might be surprised to learn that the person who “flies through the air with the greatest of ease” turns out to be a woman! It’s not quite so simple. It was a man, who eloped with the narrator’s girlfriend and then taught her acrobatics and gave her a masculine name so she could take his place as a performer while he rests. So by the last verse, the man on the flying trapeze was female.
For beautiful execution of a beautiful idea for a tribute/concept album, try The Beautiful Old: Turn-of-the-Century Songs. These mostly pre-phonograph-record-era songs, which range in period from 1823 (“Home Sweet Home”) to 1918 (“Beautiful Ohio” and “Till We Meet Again”), are definitely Americana. (They also were popular in Britain.) Yet they aren’t thought of as “Americana” in the contemporary sense – they’re considered more a part of the Tin Pan Alley/music parlor/sheet-music tradition than the folk/blues one.