Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Charlie Byrd: Byrdland

Review # 67
Atist: Charlie Byrd
Title: Byrdland
Format: LP
Label: Columbia
Year: 1966
Songs: 11

Almost a year into the 30,000 Songs project, Charlie Byrd's Byrdland marks the final LP by an artist who's name begins with the letter "B."

This was a record I got from my dad and which I had never listened to prior to putting it on for review. While my copy has seen better days, I'm actually quite pleased to have this in my collection. This record is quintessential 1960s cocktail party music, without being bland or generic.

Byrd plays bossa nova influenced jazz on a classical guitar, backed by a a bass, piano, and drums. Some sparse horn work appears on some tracks, but never does it eclipse Byrd's excellent guitar playing. While I might not go so far as to use the word "virtuoso" to describe Charlie Byrd, he gets pretty close at times. His performances on this record are always precise and often innovative.

Interestingly, the music on this record manages to be a clear product of the era in which it was recorded, while also sounding fresh and interesting. It is clear that Byrd did not limit his musical intake to artists playing in the same genre as himself. Some of the songs that stand out most on this record have melodies that might be familiar to fans of other other genres of music.  One standout track is Byrd's rendition of the Beatles' "Girl" from the album Rubber Soul, which would have been released earlier the same year as Byrdland. Another interesting track is "Work Song." Drawn from the folk tradition, this is in fact an interpretation of a Mississippi cotton field song, which Simon & Garfunkel fans will note shares a melody with their "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin,'" a song appearing on their Sounds of Silence album the same year that Byrdland was released. Sinatra fans, meanwhile, may be struck by the melody of "Manha de Carnaval," a famous bossa nova tune from the 1950s which is the basis of Frank's "A Day in the Life of a Fool." Sinatra's rendition appeared on his famous My Way album a couple of years after the release of Byrdland. Byrd makes all these songs his own, and while instrumental versions of this era often fall off the edge of the cliff between real jazz and elevator music, Charlie Byrd doesn't even approach it.

Byrdland, then, is clearly a record of it's time, drawing on a range of musical influences that were ascendant in the mid 1960s, yet does so without being derivative. Pick up a copy of this if you can, and have some friends over for martinis. You won't find many better records to listen to while you sip on a cocktail.

Here's Byrd's rendition of "Girl."
Total songs listened: 827

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