Review # 26
Artist: Barroom Piano
Title: Fantastic, Honky Tonk Player Barroom Piano
Label: Audio Fidelity Records
Ok punk fans. Get ready for a long dry spell, because this is the first of a whole bunch of other types of records. It'll be a couple of weeks now probably before we hit another straight-up punk rock record. For those of you into the more eclectic reviews, now is your time.
I listed the artist on the record as "Barroom Piano," because these are literally recordings of a player-piano. There's no person performing on these songs, and the songs themselves are credited to a number of different people, so I have deemed the piano itself to be the artist on this record. Further, I personally file this under "BA," so whether or not this is the actual artist, that's where I keep it, so this is where I'll review it. That's going to be a common theme over several of the next few records, actually.
These recordings were made in Paul Eakins' "Gay 90s Village," a recreation of an 1890s American town located in Sikeston Missouri, which the record sleeve describes as "the Disneyland of the Midwest." It began as Eakin's collection of player pianos, calliopes, and apparently "automatic banjos," which I've never heard of before. As best as I can determine from the internet, the village is gone, but the collection still exists in St. Louis. I'm headed there soon, actually, so I may try to check this out. There are some pictures here.
So that's all pretty interesting, to me at least. A weird little slice of Americana.
The piano itself, according to the record sleeve, was made in 1915 for use in the red light districts of midwest steel towns. Apparently it was used in saloons and brothels before it found its way into Eakins collection. He spent over 600 hours restoring it to its original condition. According to the sleeve, it was deep red in color, including the keys of the piano, to match the parlors where "ladies of the evening" would entertain their guests. The things this piano must have seen...
Anyway, the songs on this record are mostly well known tunes from days gone by. There's some Tin Pan Alley stuff and some other, even older songs. A lot of these were tunes I recognized but never knew the names of. A few you might recognize by name include "My Blue Heaven," "My Wild Irish Rose," "Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland," and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Something that's cool about these tracks and adds to the sort of field-recording feel of the record is that at the beginning of each song, you can hear a nickle being dropped into the slot to the start the piano. I guess the Bay Rum Boys may have been looking back with rose-colored glasses on the merits of player pianos as compared to juke boxes.
Something else that stands out in these recordings are the rapid trills this piano is capable of. According to the sleeve, the trill mechanism in this piano was quite special in that each hammer in the piano could strike a string as many as ten times per second. I don't know how fast a person can play a piano, but I'm guessing it's not that fast. You can really hear it, especially on the high notes.
This is probably not a record I'd play all the time. Indeed, it's something I got free from my dad and this is the first time I've played it all the way through, but it's sort of neat slice of history to have in the collection.
I couldn't find any clips from this record on the internet, unfortunately, although it looks like you can buy this record on Amazon and a variety of other places if you just have to hear it.
I did find this clip of Paul Eakins on a game show in 1960s, in which he demonstrates the workings of one of his larger automated musical instruments.
Here's Eakins at the Gay 90s Village.
They just don't make them like they used to.
Total songs listened: 320