The Beautiful Old: Turn-of-the-Century Songs
Popular music began to change in the 1920s with the advent of radio and phonograph records. Before records, in the 1800s and early-1900s, it was the sale of sheet music that led to hit songs. People bought sheet music so they could play the songs in their living rooms, or parlors. Songs from that era are often referred to as parlor music.
On The Beautiful Old: Turn-of-the-Century Songs, producers Paul Marsteller and Gabriel Rhodes have assembled a lovely compilation of parlor songs from between 1805 and 1918 – including a couple of instrumentals – performed by a stellar collection of singers and musicians. The songs are performed strictly on instruments that could have been used back in the day. Despite the fact that the performers span several generations, several genres of music and come from a couple of continents, there is a seamless quality to the production – thanks, no doubt, to the lovely arrangements and excellent performances.
Among my favorite selections are Richard Thompson and Christine Collister’s perfectly charming version of “The Band Played On,” which opens the CD; Jimmy LaFave’s heartfelt rendering of “Long Time Ago”; and Eric Bibb’s uncharacteristic take on “Just A-Wearyin’ For You,” a song once performed by Paul Robeson, his legendary godfather.
Another favorite is Carrie Elkin’s version of “The Dying Californian.” When Kimmie Rhodes adds her lovely harmony to Carrie’s voice I’m reminded of hearing Kate and Anna McGarrigle sing some of the parlor songs they were raised on.
Kimmie Rhodes – whose West Texas Heaven remains one of my all-time favorite country albums – turns in three great performances as lead vocalist. And, if I have a new discovery thanks to this album, it’s Kimmie’s daughter, Jolie Goodnight, who sings two songs including the folksong, “Silver Dagger.”
I also couldn’t help but smile listening to Dave Davies of the Kinks sing “After the Ball” or be moved by Christine Collister’s touching rendition of “Home Sweet Home.”
Of special note among the instrumentalists are pianist Garth Hudson of The Band and producer and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Rhodes (Kimmie’s son).