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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Twistable Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to Shel Silverstein

Posted on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Twistable Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to Shel Silverstein
Composer: Various Artists
Conductor: Various Artists
Label: Sugarhill
Release Date: 2010-06-02
Rated: NONE
Genre: Recording

Usually posthumous tribute albums — featuring covers of the departed’s masterworks by a bunch of Johnny–come–latelies with a 10th of the talent — are a total waste of time and money. What better way to pay tribute, after all, than by appreciating the artist’s originals? Silverstein, who first found fame as a Playboy cartoonist but is probably best known these days for his children’s poetry collection Where the Sidewalk Ends, is sort of a special case, though. There’s no definitive album to point to, for one thing, as Silverstein’s best tracks are scattered across several releases that are relatively hard to find (or as hard to find as anything can be in the internet age), and, more to the point, the best versions of his songs are usually covers by other artists — most often Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show (“The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” “Sylvia’s Mother”), but also Johnny Cash (“A Boy Named Sue”) and Emmylou Harris (“The Queen of the Silver Dollar”). Versions of all these songs are included on Twistable Turnable Man, but not surprisingly, none of them will replace their predecessors (though Black Francis’s “Cover” comes close). But Twistable does include the best versions I’ve heard of some of Silverstein’s lesser-known works: Andrew Bird’s take on the title track, Dr. Dog’s “The Unicorn,” Kris Kristofferson’s hard-lived “The Winner,” Ray Price’s “Me and Jimmy Rogers,” and John Prine’s “This Guitar is for Sale” are all examples of perfect artist-song pairing. Lucinda Williams’s version of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” even surpasses Marianne Faithfull’s, if only by virtue of dropping that damn synthesizer. Everyone avoids the main pitfall with Silverstein’s songs — amping up their underlying wit until they become novelty tunes. The only complaint: Perhaps because it’s an Americana collection curated by Bobby Bare Jr., Twistable omits Silverstein’s more objectionable songs, such as “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball,” “I Got Stoned and I Missed It,” and “Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most,” in favor of the insanely mawkish “Daddy What If” (featuring Bare Jr.’s toddler daughter) and Nanci Griffith’s musical adaptation of The Giving Tree, which is too damn depressing to listen to twice.

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