Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jan August: Piano Roll Favorites

Review # 20
Artist: Jan August (w/The Bay Rum Boys)
Title: Piano Roll Favorites
Format: 10" LP
Label: Mercury
Year: 1950
Songs: 8

I don't remember how this came into my collection, but I might have bought it at the Goodwill outlet store where records cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 cents. I think I played it once before today, but I'm not really sure.  This record is made up of songs that were popular as rolls for player pianos, performed by pianist (and, according to the internet, xylophonist) Jan August. Some tracks feature vocals by the Bay Rum Boys. There's also a snare drum and what sounds like maybe a stand up bass on these songs.

This record has seen better days. It pops and skips a little, but honestly, it kind of adds to the old-timey feel of this record. While this came out in 1950 (or at least, that's the only date I could find for it online), these songs are older than that, with some dating back to the 1930s, and the recording feels much more like something out of the 1940s than the 1950s. There's a ragtime feel to most of these songs, and the lyrics are incredibly dated and sometimes politically incorrect (see for example these lyrics to "Egyptian Ella"). And yet, on some level, this was a record that recognized the changing times. "The Good Old Pianola" reminisces about the days of player pianos, bemoaning the rise of the jukebox, which, in contrast to its vanquished predecessor, charges it's listeners for the pleasure of listening to music.

I can't really get too deep into this one. It just falls too far outside my frame of reference, and to my ear there isn't anything that deep happening here. I will say, however, that the piano performances are pretty impressive, and the Bay Rum Boys, although they sound silly and entirely too innocent to the contemporary ear, really nail that old-time harmony sound and compliment Jan and the band nicely. This feels like a perfect little slice of music from a bygone era--it's actually sort of surprising this isn't an album of 78s rather than a single 33rpm record. Apparently Jan and the Bay Rum Boys did release some of these tracks on 78s, so maybe the recordings are older than this particular collection, but I don't know. Information about this one on the internet is sparse. Regardless of the actual date these were recorded, however, you could imagine strolling along at a county fair in the 1930s or 40s, and hearing these performances in background as someone yells about how, for just a nickle, you can have three chances to knock down the bottles.  Or something like that.  I wouldn't seek this out or anything, but it's cute and fun if you like old-time music.

Total songs listened: 242

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love old player piano music. My Aunt Stella had one in her loft and I would make her play it all the time. Good memories. :)