Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs

 (http://peterstampfels20thcentury.com/, 2021) Decades (if not 120 years) in the making, Peter Stampfel's wonderful project celebrates 100 years of 20th Century music with spare, lovely interpretations of one song from each year. For the first four decades of this I am reminded of the second career of recently departed genius dandy Ian Whitcomb, who quickly swapped out being the Harry Styles heartthrob of his day for a weird lengthy career as an earnest revivalist of early 20th Century popular music. While Stampfel's background in the trickster-adjacent Holy Modal Rollers, and his imperfect voice, should invoke Tiny Tim, I get more of Whitcomb vibe because, while frequently whimsical, there is no calculated novelty or goofing for attention here. This is an exercise in sincerity executed over many years with a handful of equally reverent collaborators.These are not just recreations; Stampfel explores the humor of Bert Williams' "Nobody" without mimicking Williams' delivery or touching on his pathos; his "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" is more wildly anarchic than even the Chipmunks version; I have never heard "Wedding of the Painted doll" before, but no one could have made anything that sounded like this. As we enter the rock era it gets interesting in certain ways ("Running Bear," "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman," and "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" are delights) but it gets REALLY interesting as the Century wraps up. Apparently Stampfell took  a break on this project a decade ago because he had a hard time getting excited about the late 80s and 90s, but more dramatically, he then completely lost his voice and struggled to learn to sing again, eventually being able to create a more frail, shakier, lower delivery. Thus, but the time we hear the Spice Girls, Beck, Fine Young Cannibals, and "Tubthumping" we hear them delivered with an extra sense of mortality and fragility, as if this record started with Baby New Year and ended being sung by the scythe holding bearded version. While some of the later tracks are a little over-produced, they are still lovely, and overall this is, dare I say it, the Record of the Century!

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