Utah Phillips - The Moscow Hold

The Moscow Hold

Utah Phillips

(RHR 118)

Red House Records
P.O. Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104
1-800-695-4687

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By David Schultz
(schultz@alum.mit.edu)

"Most of these tales began as rude, throw-away bar jokes, more often than not. Many of them contain a hard nugget of comic value. The idea is to listen patiently, grasp the nugget, wipe the crud off, divest it of it's vile criminal context, and reclothe it in a raiment more suitable to a formerly reptilian prince."
- Utah Phillips, in the liner notes

Thus Phillips introduces this album of live tracks, recorded from 1977 to 1999 from across the U.S. The album is best described as a comedy album, as opposed to an album of songs, because Phillips' guitar only appears on two tracks (and the amount of time his guitar is heard is a small fraction of the track). Phillips is the consummate performer. The labor leader, folklorist, and anarchist Utah Phillips as a stand-up comic? It's not that tough to imagine after hearing this album.

The title comes from a story about Phillips' shortlived lacklucker stint in the ring as Kid Pro Quo. When matched against a wrestler with 227 consecutive victories whose success was due to the infamous Moscow Hold, Phillips managed to extricate himself in probably the most captivating and funny story I've ever heard.

Devoid of the folk tales about labor relations common to many of his recent albums, Phillips still manages to get a few digs in against conservative Christians, Mormons, new agers, and miners. You might even say it's a no-holds-barred attack. Natural Resources is the hilarious story of Utah talking to an auditorium of school children: "You're about to be told one more time that you're America's most valuable natural resource -- Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources?"

Other stories include Will Rogers, about the first country-wide radio broadcast sponsored by Standard Oil and Rogers' explanation of the real service provided by that megacompany, and Shark Fishing, about how Brigham Young brought sharks to the Great Salt Lake. Another story that had me laughing out loud was the one about Blackie, who believed that God turned the light on for him when he got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, then turned it off again. To say anymore would ruin a great story.

The sound quality is varied because of the multiple recording sources, but since this is primarily a spoken word album, the listener can forgive this minor indiscretion. With the success of recent comedy albums by Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Firesign Theatre, it would be great to see some of these sales rub off on Phillips. This album reminds me of those great comedy albums and radio programs I listened to as a kid.

"If any of you are offended by these tales, you're out of luck. Go and complain to somebody else."
- Utah Phillips
Edited by: Jonathan Colcord
(absconc@grolen.com)

Copyright 2000, Peterborough Folk Music Society and David Schultz.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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