Monday, July 22, 2013

Candy for the Mind

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. Heard again all these years later, this impressive but flawed Disney tribute album from 1988 both betrays producer Hal Willner's discomfort with the simple pleasures of the Mouse's songbook and illustrates his admirable if foolhardy ambition to one-up Uncle Walt at his own game, to create his own sonic world around these beloved tunes. Hence Willner's aggressively alt vision, kicking off the record with a foreboding off-Beat brain-melt by Ken Nordine, over a creepy-carny backdrop thrown down by the record's house band (Frisell, Horvitz); trying to tie songs together into pretentiously titled mini-suites ("The Darkness Sheds Its Veil"); layering in sound effects and bits of narration. Too often these exotic edges seem imposed on the material, which is why my favorite section of the record this time around (if not my favorite tracks overall) came with the unlikely quartet of Syd Straw's swaying "Blue Shadows on the Trail," David Johansen's kitschy "Castle in Spain," Yma Sumac's lush "I Wonder," and Garth Hudson's organ-grinder "Feed the Birds"; these versions' idiomatic oddness matched the original material's quirks rather than gratuitously weirding them up, as in Tom Waits' hilariously hideous black-lung take on "Heigh Ho."

Elsewhere the record doesn't hold together so much as offer high points (Sun Ra's "Pink Elephants," Los Lobos' "I Wanna Be Like You," the Mats' "Cruella De Ville"), low ones (a tinkly, tentative "Little April Showers," Aaron Neville's pointless "Mickey Mouse March," Bonnie Raitt's somnabulent "Baby Mine" ), and several points in between. When Ringo Starr and Herb Alpert emerge from another portentous Nordine soundscape to close the album with "When You Wish Upon a Star," we're put in mind of another ambitious but uneven album capped by a lush, Starr-crooned lullaby. We can hardly hold it against Stay Awake that it's not The White Album, and given the essential work Willner did elsewhere (his criminally out-of-print Lost in the Stars compilation introduced me to my favorite composer, Kurt Weill), I can only bow to his chutzpah that he would even court such a comparison.

Dennis Kim-Prieto i loved that record. i guess i still do, even if i no longer have it...
Rob Weinert-Kendt Love is a song that never ends.

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