Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Moon June Spoon #6
We’re bidding June a fond adieu today—it certainly has been a topsy-turvy month, at least around these parts, & perhaps ruled very much by “th’inconstant moon.”
So what better way to take our leave of June than with one last installment of Moon June Spoon—& we’ve got some really fine songs today—western swing, jazz, oldtime country & western & more.
Thanks to everyone for the very positive response to Moon June Spoon; I’ll be sure to concoct another song series before too long—maybe in August. For now, hope you enjoy these selections!
Shine On Harvest Moon: I love this sort of old song—this & “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” & “In the Moonlight” are the very songs that laid the Moon June Spoon foundation (as it were—an odd metapher, yes). It’s also worth noting that all three of these songs—& lots more— appear on the Fabulous Heftones album of the same name. In this case, Brian Hefferan handles the vocal—including the stage-setting verse which I believe a lot of folks haven’t heard. It’s a fun & rambunctious outing, as is the Leon Redbone version (& Mr Redbone includes the verse, too). For those who are interested in the Fabulous Heftones (& you really should be), you can hear their tunes—including this one—on their site here. You can also see them performing “Shine On Harvest Moon” in the video clip below. Although there’s a lot of background noise, it’s notable for at least two reasons: first, the Fabulous Heftones seem an embodiment of “playing” music—it’s fun! Second: check out the bass banjo (known as a Heftone). Now that’s a cool instrument! The Fabulous Heftones: Moon June Spoon (Heftone Records); Leon Redbone: Double Time (Warner Bros)
Silvery Moon & Golden Sands: This pleasant “earthly paradise” number by Johnny Hodges features some tasty exchanges between saxman Hodges & trumpeter Cootie Williams during an extended intro (which is kicked off by the Duke himself on the ivories). The vocal is handled by Mary McHugh. This would be a lovely tune for a moonlit June evening. Duke Ellington: The Duke’s Men: Small Groups, vol. 1 (Columbia Jazz Masterpieces)
Sugar Moon: Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys need no introduction, at least not to fans of old time country music. Mr Wills & colleagues’ version of western swing is just flat-out great; & Wills & the Playboys were in good form when they recorded this song, with the usual fine Tommy Duncan vocal & some excellent guitar work by Lester Barnard, Jr. But the writer of “Sugar Moon,” Cindy Walker, isn’t as well known as she should be. Ms Walker is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame (inducted in 1997), but given the amazing number of hits she turned out for some of Country’s biggest stars, she should be thought of as one of the premier 20th century popular songwriters. Consider just a handful of her highlights: “Blue Canadian Rockies”; “Cherokee Maiden”; “Dusty Skies”; “Miss Molly”; “Two Glasses, Joe”; “Warm Red Wine”; “You Don’t Know Me”; “Dream Baby”—& the list goes on. Wills & the Texas Playboy’s alone recorded 50 of Walker’s songs. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys: Take Me Back to Tulsa (Proper)
That Old Devil Moon: This may be a bit of heresy to some of my classic film friends out there, but I never could quite get Judy Garland’s popularity as an actress. As Dorothy, yes. In most of her other roles—even some really famous ones—not so much. However, Ms Garland sure could sing. She had amazing range, of course, but much more than that—she could really live inside a song. A lot of folks have covered “That Old Devil Moon” but, like many of her other famous numbers, this is a song Garland made her own. I have this on an old cassette but this song is pretty readily available—one choice would be Judy Garland: Very Best of Judy Garland: The Capitol Recordings 1955-1965 (EMI Imports). For the record, mine is: Judy “Live” (Golden Circle)—looks like a bootleg to me….
What a Little Moonlight Can Do: This is one of the songs I always think about when I think of Billie Holiday—the impeccable phrasing, the understated approach, the ability to take a melody outside itself or beyond itself—taking it to a new place while it always remains completely itself. Holiday has fantastic back-up on this recording: Charlie Shaver, trumpet; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Ed Shaughnessy, drums. Billie Holiday: Jazz Masters 12 (Verve)
When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again: I really love this old country tune, & it’s one I perform myself, sometimes with guitar & other times with 5-string banjo. Needless to say, there are lots of versions out there—Elvis’ rockabilly version, tho not one of my favorites, is very well known, & Merle Haggard also has done a nice version of the tune. To my mind, it’s pretty hard to beat the original version of this song by Wiley Walker & Gene Sullivan, but the version by Cindy Walker in the vidclip below is really good—proving that Ms. Walker was a terrific singer in addition to being a great songwriter. Sadly, this recording doesn’t seem to be available commercially at this time. Walker’s recording of “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” was a top 10 hit in 1944. Wiley Walker & Gene Sullivan: Columbia Country Classics, vol. 1 The Golden Age (Columbia)
Winter Moon: What a song to end on—this tune has an incredibly haunting melody, & although it’s not one of his best known pieces, I think it’s one of Hoagy Carmichael’s very finest compositions. It is a sad song—the emotion is almost desolate—but the rich harmonies & deceptively simple melody will transport you. The recording by Carmichael himself is superb, with a great back-up band called the Pacific Jazzmen (including Art Pepper on alto sax & Johnny Mandel as arranger & conductor); Hoagy’s voice was just stronger in the 50s than earlier in his career—more assured & more comfortable. I recommend this recording very highly. Hoagy Carmichael: Hoagy Sings Carmichael (Pacific Jazz)