Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Old Songs

Maybe yesterdays  Ols Songd had an effect on me?- I've been delving back into the past since listening to Andrew Bird - Noble Beast a few days ago. Casting around for something beyond Armchair Apocrypha, I found an ep "Soldier On", originally a cd just for a European tour, but later released in the US too. Supposedly a bit of a collection of unreleased tracks/versions, I didn't know this & just played the thing - It stands up perfectly well as a proper mini-album. (pitchfork review)

How You Gonna Keep 'em down on the Farm stood out, partly because it's such an old song which I remember hearing on an Alastair Cooke(i) radio show, where in great detail he'd illustrate 'jazz' hits of the 20's, even explaining the differing lyrics for 'Yes, We have no bananas....' on the two sides of the Atlantic & playing various versions. I love this sort of attention to detail & enthusiasm - Benny Green(i)was another radio favourite, his hour long shows were always over too soon.

Anyhoo, what was Andrew Bird doing singing a song from nearly ninety years (1918) ago?. Turns out it was for a 3-CD collection 'Song of America'(i), put together by former US Attorney General Janet Reno(i). Down on the Farm was written by Walter Donaldson(i), with words by Joe Young(i) & Sam M. Lewis(i); all three were pretty prolific writers, Donaldson knocked out hundreds of original songs, most of these before moving to LA & composing/arranging for Hollywood. Joe Young worked on such lyrical gems as 'Yaaka Hula, Hickey Dula' and 'Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night?' for Al Jolson, & more famously 'Sit right down & write myself a letter'. Sam Lewis worked with him for many years from 1916.

So this novelty song - beautifully crafted musically & lyrically, & hugely popular in its day - got chosen for Andrew Bird to cover & what a lovely perspective he brings to it - the words are plaintive now, rather than humorous - it's really quite moving.

How You Gonna keep 'em...(mp3) - Andrew Bird

How You Gonna keep 'em...(mp3) - Nora Bayes (wiki) (1919)

How You Gonna Keep 'em (mp3) Byron G Harlan  (wiki) (1919) 
Part of the UCSB Cylinder Digitization Project:

Soldier On is available to buy as a download from amazon | emusic | and as a CD from Fargo

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