Sunday, January 22, 2012

Standards: Up a Lazy River

Rickie Lee Jones: Up a Lazy River


I enjoy complex storytelling in songs as much as anyone, but songs that become standards often feature simple lyrics that give them a universal appeal. The songwriter captures a moment in time perfectly, and sets the mood in a way that is relevant to generations in both the present and the future. Up a Lazy River is a Hoagy Carmichael tune from 1930, but it still speaks to us today. Carmichael gives us a blissful summer day, and a couple drifting slowly down a stream, free of care, if only for a moment.

Rickie Lee Jones included the song in an entire album of standards, 2000’s It’s Like This. Her definition of a standard includes the Gershwins, the Beatles, and even Steely Dan. Jones finds the perfect setting for Up a Lazy River. She opens the song in a state of languid bliss, but halfway through, the current hastens and she is joined by a male chorus. This is a device that goes back at least to the swing era, and possibly also a nod to the hit version of the song by the Mills Brothers. The male chorus here is Dan Hicks, Ben Folds, and Taj Mahal. Jones sums up the proceedings perfectly at the end. “That was mighty good,” she says. Indeed.

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