Thursday, July 25, 2019


Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht famously liked their grub, forever breaking off mid stanza to rustle up some rostbratwurst-und-kartoffeln, so cutlery always played a big part in their output, from Alabama Song**, a left-over from our last theme, which tackles southern soul food, to the Black Freighter, about the perils of cruise line buffet dining. Mack the Knife is arguably the best known of all their collaborations, which plays on a riff around a family so poor they each had but the use of one of their limited supply of eating irons. Mack, as head of the family, had access to the sole knife, with Lotte 'the fork' and Caspar, their son, 'the spoon.' Of course, translation from the original german has sometimes masked this true meaning, not least as, when Weill relocated to the states, tinseltown demanded the less literal versions we know today, fearing the american audience might wish something a little more metaphorical from old europe, especially as it was still black and white in those then still troubled parts of the world.

(Before we discuss some of the versions of this ditty, in a pause, let's reflect on life and it's parallel relationship with art, well, blogging, for by extreme coincidence, my favourite blog/message board, 'Afterword', has just this week asked for cutlery based musings, and, similarly, get this, a mere 7 years ago, Britains Guardian newspaper wrote this, also about Caspar and his ilk.)

Most folk, and I mean most old folk like me, first heard about Mack through Bobby Darin, as only the very very old and odd would be familiar with the original. (Have you ever sat through an entire Brecht and Weill in the original? And I don't mean the souped up David Bowie vehicle, itself, um, challenging*, let alone the whole Deutsche cabaret style.) But Darin gives a bouncy rendition, full of finger popping' opportunity, beloved of that style. I actually quite like it, the gold turning rapidly to base metal if copied by anyone, yes, anyone, in the same lounge/lobby format.
*Link unavailable, but trust me, I watched on the TV.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore was part of the seminal pre-americana country trio, the Flatlanders, alongside Joe Ely and Butch Hancock.  I confess to finding his vocals a little too gloopy on most occasions, but here he nails it, a languid sway of background instrumentation conjuring elegant decay. So redolent is it of  the production of Dylan/U2 producer Daniel Lanois, I had to look up whether it was, discovering it was the excellent Buddy Miller, guitarist and producer in no small right himself.

Simpler still is this delightful acoustic rendition by Vikesh Kapoor, a 21st century troubadour in the style of Woody Guthrie, so in a time and, if you expect his name to define his music, culture out of place. An excellent debut, 'The Ballad of Willy Robbins', from which this comes, came out in 2013, following which zilch.

Of course I got to play this, a completely off the wall version by my man, the good doctor, Mac Rebennack, Dr. John. Define it how you like, it could come from any of the last 8 decades and still sound completely out of place and of its time. An added bonus is the fact that, again, it gets the taste of this fella out my mouth. OK, not so keen on the rap section, but hey.

I thought 5 my limit, at least with directly featured videos, a struggle with the myriad options available, so I have nipped outside of my own collection into Second Hand Songs, the essential aide memoire for a covers freak like me, where I found many more. Plus, I wanted a feminine take on it. Unfortunately, the one I wanted, by Rickie Lee Jones, not only only came out a month ago, but has also yet to find a home on the youtube. So you'll have to wait. (It's good, tho') By way of consolation, here's a weird one from the 'Sleepwalk' hitmakers, Santo and Johnny. Kinda cute, yes? Kinda kitsch.

**This just in: how did you like Jimbo and the boys take on Alabama Song? Try this for size!

Get 'em all here!