This morning I found myself remembering the early 1960’s when I used to listen to Ken Nordine on AM radio while doing homework. He was the first poet I ever heard perform and to this day I have never heard anyone deliver lines of verse better. I have been to many poetry readings, most readers have a strange, stilted, stiff, and stylized delivery that has little to do with the meaning of the words. I’m sure you know what I mean. Most singers—folk and country especially—render their lyrics with rhythms, pitch, tone, and inflection that express so much more faithfully the meaning of the lines they perform. Ken Nordine is unique in that while he does not sing his lines, the manner in which he speaks them is essentially musical–spoken song, or as he calls it, “word jazz.”
Podcasts of many of his performances and shows are available at his Word Jazz website: http://www.wordjazz.com
If you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing Ken Nordine — please, treat yourself, have a listen to his “Infinite O’Clock.”
Since the 1970s I have lived my life to a soundtrack featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Donovan, Procol Harem, The Grateful Dead, James Taylor, The Moody Blues, and so on and on, and, oh yeah, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Traffic, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens — I wish I could click an iTunes “Genius” button right now to finish the list.
Recently I came across another group that I think I will be listening to for years, decades to come, Leslie and the Badgers. The things I love about the music of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Janis Joplin are what I love about the music of Leslie and the Badgers — great poetic lyrics, a lead vocalist with unbelievable range and expression, and an ensemble of fellow musicians playing a lot, and I do mean a lot, of different instruments. Playing so many instruments enables the group to give each song a fresh, unique sound. Their sound transcends categories, try a mix of country, folk, and rock performed with heart, whimsy, humor, and a desire to communicate. Is there a name for that?
Here is a list of instruments listed on “Roomful of Smoke,” their new CD: saw, marxophone, rhodes, all types of guitar (lap steel, bass, rhythm, lead, baritone, high strung, acoustic, pedal steel), accordion, horns, cigfiddle, timpani, piano, Wurlitzer Organ, drums, glockenspiel, violin, Hammond organ. They play them all, and well. Again from the “Roomful of Smoke” CD, a list of the musicians in Leslie Stevens’ backup ensemble: Glenn Oyabe, Ben Reddell, Travis Popichak, Charlene Huang, Eugene Fillios, Keven Savigar, David Bianco, James Bianco, Mandy Hoffman, and David Ralicke.
Then there is the voice of lead vocalist, Leslie Stevens—beyond words. You’ll just have to listen.
Here’s a video and some links. Go buy their stuff, check out their schedule, see them in person!