Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, January 21, 2006
      ( 1/21/2006 07:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"COLD-HEARTED ORB" – Last December, I bought my spouse a disc that she'd been asking for since it first was released a year before: the Rounder tribute collection Moody Bluegrass. Becky is a big Moody Blues fan – they're her favorite rock band – and though the pop nerd in me used to get a charge out of repeatedly teasing her for this preference, over time I've mellowed. They're a good pop singles band, think I, and I've even got a copy of the band's one-disc best-of in the PT Cruiser. Usually skip through "Nights in White Satin" when I play it, but the rest is jes' fine.

The Bluegrass collection, produced by mandolinist David Harvey and featuring new grass artists like John Cowan, Tim O'Brien and Alison Krause, is a respectful tribute set that's about half greatest hits and half countrified takes on lesser-known album tracks. Considering how heavily orchestrated/produced much of the Moodies' music can be, it's surprising how well so many translate into acoustic country. The bulk of the songs covered are by Moodies lead singer Justin Hayward, and, in the best reinterpretations, they sound like something a more studied Nashville songwriter might've concocted. Where the original version of "The Other Side of Life" always seemed more than a little unbelievable – a buncha middle-aged VH-1ers telling us about takin' a walk on the wild side? – hearing Lonesome Standard Time's Larry Cordle tackle the same lyrics with his country soulful voice is a whole different matter.

The bulk of the collection's tracks have a country folkish tinge to 'em: it's in the three most rockin' covers ("Ride My See Saw," "The Voice," "I'm Just A Singer In A Rock & Roll Band") that the musicians indulge in full-throttle bluegrass pickin'. Of these, perhaps the last is the least successful track – not just because the idea of singing about being a rock & roller while the banjos and mandolins are flyin' all around ya seems off, but because the original's shrieking orchestrated urgency is so memorable – but they're all fun to listen to. And it's definitely a kick to hear a group of Nashvillians seriously warblin' "Legend of A Mind"'s eulogy to Timothy Leary.

And, yes, they do "Nights In White Satin," with the dumb "poetic" spoken coda included. It's even more laffable than the original version, but, hey, even the Moodies have been in on the joke for some time now (witness their memorable guest appearance on The Simpsons of several years back, tweaking the recitation with a ref to "cold-hearted Homer.") I'm not sure anyone outside of an oldies concert could get away with a straight-faced reading of that recitation, much less a guy with a clear country twang . . .

Still, it's a decent set that I wouldn't mind playing in the car alongside that best-of. Which (sorry, babe, some old habits die hard!) is more than I can say for Days of Future Passed . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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