One of our purchases this past Tuesday was one of my guilty pleasures and, likewise, someone I figured HRH herself might also enjoy, Leon Redbone. Specifically, his ‘On the Track‘ album.
If you’ve never heard of Leon Redbone, you should really make the effort to educate yourself, you rube.
Born in 1949, Leon is a singer and guitarist specializing in interpretations of early 20th-century music, including jazz and blues standards and Tin Pan Alley classics and best recognized for his trademark Panama hat, dark sunglasses, black tie,and big cigars (there’s the big cigar fascination with HRH again so I’m officially concerned). Although it was incorrectly rumored that the artist was a musical visage of Frank Zappa, Redbone first appeared on stage in Toronto, Canada in the mid-1970’s but you might best remember him as the dude who wrote and sang the theme to ‘Mr. Belvedere‘ in the 80’s (click HERE). Adding to his mystique is that that he was once cited by Bob Dylan as the first performer he’d want to sign to his own label. I once had the pleasure of seeing Leon perform at the Tralf in Buffalo, New York and it was, simply, incredible.
Anyway, it was an easy sell the exact moment she saw the album cover featuring the famous Michigan J. Frog frog created by Chuck Jones for the popular Looney Tunes cartoons (click HERE). Released in 1975 on Warner Bros. Records, it peaked at #87 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts…largely because of the frog I suspect. I mean, who doesn’t love a singing frog? That shit is awesome!
For this debut album, he offers a uniquely authentic revival of turn-of-the-century melodies, including those of the Singin’ Brakeman, Mississippi Blue Yodeler Jimmie Rodgers (‘Desert Blues‘) as well as Fats Waller (‘Ain’t Misbehavin‘). However, he liberally applies the same notable technique to a wide array of pop standards from the likes of Irving Berlin (‘Marie‘) and Johnny Mercer (‘Lazy Bones‘). Oh, and the very last track on the album ‘Polly Wolly Doodle‘, is what actually inspired album-cover to include “a grasshopper sittin’ on the railroad track… pickin’ his teeth with a carpet tack.” Famed jazz producer Joel Dorn was at the helm of these sessions and his experience provides an organic attention to nuance. On the whole, the lack of over-production allows the material room to breathe without stifling the arrangements, yet with enough augmentation to adequately support Redbone’s more central delivery.
I don’t think HRH really knows what to make of it exactly (her exact quote is “this is one of the most weird things I’ve ever listened to”) but she sure digs the album cover, which, when it comes down to it, is half the fun or record shopping.