Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oscar Brand: Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads Volume 4

Review # 69
Artist: Oscar Brand
Title: Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads Volume 4
Format: LP
Label: Audio Fidelity
Year: 1957
Songs: 14

So, after triumphantly moving on to "C" records, I found this sitting in my pile of records I hadn't actually listened to yet. I've had this for a while and it should have been reviewed before now, but it's very appropriate that this is review number 69, because this is a record of dirty, prurient songs. Being an enthusiast of old folk music, I picked this up out of a dollar bin, never having heard of Oscar Brand but curious about these ditties. Brand was a Canadian born folk singer who specialized in some of the less family-friendly folk music of Europe and America, so much so that he released at least four volumes of these forgotten and filthy tunes.

I sort of thought this record wasn't going to be any good, but I was mostly wrong. This record is a fun compendium of old-time songs about illicit sex. Some of them are sort of subtle (emphasis on "sort of") like "Two Maidens" and "Basket of Oysters" (you can guess what that one's about), while others are so graphic that they couldn't be played on the radio without significant censorship. These songs really put the lie to the idea that modern forms like rap and hard rock have made music a corrupting influence. With several of the tracks on this record dating back to 1607, it is quite clear that raunchy songs are nothing new. Many of these songs have familiar tunes that might have you absent-mindedly tapping your foot before realizing this is not the song from your childhood (i.e. "Cindy," "The Wayward Boy," and "The Money Rolls In," the latter of which is sung to the tune of "My Bonnie" but deals with prostitution and related matters). The record also contains a song called "Sweet Violets," which turns out to be a forerunner of the 1940s novelty hit "Shaving Cream," with mostly similar verses and choruses that replace the "shhhhaving cream, be nice and clean, shave every day and you'll always look keen" with "sweet violets, sweeter than all the roses."

The actual performances of these songs are pretty ok. Brand and his accompanist Dave Sear are both competent guitarists/banjo players and sing these tunes with the gusto that songs like these really require to work. The one place where it sort of falls apart is with the accents. Brand does an ok Scotsman--good enough that I initially found myself wondering if he was actuallyScottishf. But his English accent, on embarrassing display throughout "Don't Call Me," a British soldier song, is just laughably bad. Every time he sings "Cor, blimey!" I cringe.  He would have been much better off to just sing these with his natural accent, or failing that, skip the British songs, because he just sounds silly.

Overall though, this is a pretty fascinating and fun look at the scandalous side of folk music, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

The only song from this record I could find streaming is one of the tamer ones, "The Wayward Boy." Enjoy!

Total songs listened: 850

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