Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tony Bennett - It's So Peaceful in the Country

In an earlier post about a Marian McPartland record, I mentioned that Alec Wilder is one of my favorite composers. He's my absolute favorite composer of the so-called Great American Songbook - the body of sophisticated popular songs that dominated American pop music up to the time rock and roll took over. But Wilder also wrote music in the classical tradition, as well as much music that was unclassifiable, fusing elements of pop, jazz, and classical.

Even though Wilder was an accomplished classical composer, his best pop songs make a deeper impact emotionally that most of his classical pieces. The latter are very original and enjoyable, but tend toward the lighter side. His pop songs are imaginative and unusually constructed, but very natural-sounding at the same time. I was singing "It's So Peaceful in the Country" to myself this morning, and noticed how unusual some of the intervals are. But, somewhat paradoxically, it's not that difficult a song to sing.

I found this record years ago in a junk store in Lincoln, Nebraska. Someone had sold the store a large stack of 45s, many by Tony Bennett, and all in excellent condition. I thought to myself, "It would be great if I could find a record of Bennett singing an Alec Wilder song in this stack." And a few seconds later, there it was.

Bennett is now the elder statesman of the Great American Songbook, and for most of his career he has been one of the best interpreters of classic American songs. His style is straightforward and respectful to the songs; he avoids histrionics and over-the-top, forced emotionalism. Bennett's version of "It's So Peaceful in the Country" was recorded in 1957, but not released until two years later. It was only released as a single at the time; it didn't appear on an album until 1997, when it was included on the CD reissue of The Beat of My Heart. Bennett is accompanied by his longtime accompanist, pianist Ralph Sharon, leading a quartet including the great jazz drummer Chico Hamilton.

When I took a picture of this record, I thought is was worth leaving it in the original Columbia sleeve; I think it's pretty interesting. I haven't mentioned the flip side of the record, "Being True to One Another," because it frankly does nothing for me.

Old-guy vent: I know that for many younger people, YouTube is one of the main ways they listen to music. That makes me a little sad, because the sound on this video is compressed and inferior. I wish everybody could hear the original 45 RPM vinyl.

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