Ben Sidran's damn near a solitarily unique figure. There are a few cats like him—Dave Frishberg, for instance, Mose Allison, and perhaps Tom Lehrer and guys like that, if you want to stretch things—but not many. I'd even include Michael Franks (oh geez, was that an ICBM that just flew by the house?) because I have odd tastes and trace the stylistic wont approximately from Ken Nordine forward, casting a wide-ish net, though I wouldn't argue much with proponents claiming sprechestimme as grandfather to it all. I was turned onto Sidran at about the same time an omnivorous jazzbo store clerk at the long-gone Platterpuss Records in Redondo Beach was getting me hip to the ECM label. Like me, that guy valued quality and uniqueness, and I took to the snappy jiver right away. I was also discovering Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, and the post-beat crowd, in which Sidran figures. Like me, though, you probably knew about him before you even knew ya did: he was on Steve Miller's Children of the Future along with Boz Scaggs, a real lost gem of an LP.
If you're familiar with Ben, you know exactly what to expect: more of the same, but wherein 'the same' means 'can't get enough of it'. Think I'm kidding? Well, this is his 35th album, which means there are an awful lot of us digging exactly what he's got. As with all past discs, he's the main figure—the man, his voice, clever lyrics, and that ubiquitous piano (Wurlitzer too)—but he handpicks a set of tighter-than-tight stop-on-dime-n-give-ya-nine-cents-change sessioneers, so the songs swing alternatingly with a boppily flowing stagger step, mellifluous balladic bluesness (check out In the Beginning), and smooth sway (the dreamily humorous It Don't get no Better). Humor, in fact, abounds in Sidran's catalogue, wry farce and whimsy upon the everyday, deflating pomposity while criticizing pretense.
At 69, he's one of those guys like Bernie Pearl (here) who not only hasn't lost a damn thing but has only gotten better and more polished with every passing year. It's ridiculous! When these guys get to 135, they'll have passed beyond any aesthetics we can understand—either that or listening will be deadly because we won't be able to handle the bliss. Of course, the ribald element will always keep the gent proletarian, shown especially in Dying Anyway, so titled because giving it the refrain's recurring verse, "This shit is killing me", would've caused problems with the bluenoses in the industry and society, 'n ya can't have that, now can ya? Then cut to his take on Merle Travis' classic Sixteen Tons, that woulda been perfect on Hal Wilner's Disney dark-take, Stay Awake (which featured the aforementioned Nordine), and a lot of ground is covered, all in that inimitable style.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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