Friday, February 5, 2010


It wasn't long ago I couldn't fathom enjoying an original Broadway cast recording. Aside from rock musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Hair", and even "Godspell", songs from Broadway were too simple, disposable and brassy, like an ingrained patriotic anthem you can recite as perfectly as your zip code. Video recordings of Stephen Sondheim's work changed all that, when I found great depth in the musical compositions of his Broadway hits; "Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street", "Sunday In The Park With George", and "Into The Woods". Now I savor Broadway cast recordings; a staple in thrift store record bins, and while much of it still sounds like the dreary and hokey soundtrack from last year's Ice Capades, (My Fair Lady), just as often certain shows become my favorite music. Such is the case with the Broadway cast recording of TITANIC, A NEW MUSICAL (RCA Victor). I was considering auditioning for a role in a local production of TITANIC so I bought the Broadway cast recording, and while I never did go on the audition, I've eaten the CD countless times. I remember the first time I played it - ugh!, - too 'in your face' with sentiment and laughs, too familiar, too obvious, too bloated, and too damn joyful. But I put the CD on for another spin, and then another, and another, and before long I was joining the finale chorus as a chartered member on board. To sit down and listen to the entire work became as satisfying as a great book, satisfying on two levels - to envision the dynamics of the Broadway stage and to experience the life of the Titanic as opposed to its death. The music gloriously and tragically reveals the historic incident with a broad range of the social, spiritual and psychological forces that came together on that faithful voyage. It hints at reasons for our obsession with a tragic incident that while certainly a footnote in history, is undeserving of its beloved celebratory status. Composer Maury Yeston borrows heavily from the baroque-like orchestrations familiar to music listeners in 1912, the year of the plunge, giving the piece a timely authenticity as the orchestra waves roll, the confident ship streams foreword, and in operatic verse the story is told. Moments of intense emotion; hear the fear and anger that rivals the iceberg in "The Blame"; the captains final chilling note as the ship engulfs him in "To Be A Captain (reprise)"; ship designer Thomas Andrews heart wrenching plea for salvation in "Mr. Andrews' Vision", plus more traditional show-stoppers and comedy. An actual artifact, a piece of music found among the treasures of the 1994 salvaging of The Titanic, and previously unknown to music historians, "Autumn", is a featured song and serves as a constant musical theme. I remember hearing of this show when it first played Broadway in 1997 and picturing a horrific musical comedy with a bad oceanic set design and singing people garbling as they drown, like community theatre gone berserk. Its tryouts in New York, (no out of town tryouts due to the elaborate technical production), were fairly horrific with the ship refusing to sink when it was supposed to. Reviews were generally negative, and it seemed the show was as sunk as its namesake. In walk fans like Rosie O'Donnell who featured the cast on her show, championing the musical in a high stakes word-of-mouth campaign ($?). The show became a success on Broadway, winning the Tony award for Best Musical, but never made a profit for its producers. It's a great blast of music which defines the Titanic on a musical scale and wears its Broadway rust proudly. Here is the Rosie O'Donnel clip with the cast singing a truncated version of the opening scene. And we'll be right back with Kelly McGillis.

I picked up a slew of unfamiliar indie rock titles somewhere and it included THE TIMBRE PROJECT's "Ruining Perfectly Good Songs" (Ice Cream Headache Records), Jaime d'almeida's one man, multi instrumentalist band which employs guest musicians from the Boston area. It's a breezy bit of indie rock in the songwriter vein, often coming a little too close to sounding a lot like Marcy Playground. Opening track, "Everything's Graded" is my favorite, a jangly bit of pop with a cool distorted guitar weaving in and out like the sound waves of a shaking aluminum saw.

Tin Tin is Steve Grows (guitar) and Steve Kipner (keyboards), a band produced by Maurice Gibbs of The Bee Gees, who released two albums in their short career between 1969 - 1973. Both albums tanked and in 1971 their record company half-heartedly released "Toast and Marmalade For Tea" off their first album, expecting it to fail as did previous singles. It became an unexpected hit record, and their only success. It's a ridiculous pop song with repetitious lyrics set to an off-center, off-speed eastern orient-like guitar rising to an elaborate repetition of form. It may be the worst record you ever heard. I spent a modest chunk of my childhood weekly allowance on it. Here, miraculously is a vintage video of it.

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