Monday, May 12, 2008

Make Me a Song

Now that I've listened to it a couple of times, I'd say that "Make Me a Song" probably makes a good souvenir for those who saw the revue, but it means less to those who did not.

One example: The guy (Adam Heller) who sings "Mister, Make Me a Song," "Republicans" and "Stupid Things I Won't Do" seems to have been cast because his voice is fairly reminiscent of William Finn's own singing voice. And this could be a genuine strength for the live show. However, given the choice between these renditions and Finn's own renditions on "Infinite Joy," I'd choose Finn's recordings first.

In fact, this 2-CD set contains a bonus track: William Finn singing "Mister, Make Me a Song" (not the live performance from "Infinite Joy," rather a new studio recording with the pianist who played piano on "Infinite Joy").

My fear was that having the recordings of "Elegies," "A New Brain" and "Infinite Joy" would diminish this recording. And my fear turns out to have been founded. Like "Elegies" and "Infinite Joy," these songs are accompanied by a solo pianist using what seem to be pretty much the same arrangements.

I don't mean to diminish the efforts of these performers. They are wonderful performers (singers and pianist) and do justice to the songs. But, really, how many recordings of these songs (well, most of these songs) does one really need, especially when the only difference between the recordings is who is singing.
There are a couple of songs that I think have not been recorded before, but by and large, most of this recording is not significantly different than what comes before it.

Bottom line, this is a revue I would like the opportunity to see some day, but I don't feel that this recording adds much new to what already existed.

I would recommend it for people who saw the revue or who have no familiarity with Finn other than "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." As a show, it was probably strong and highly entertaining. As a cast recording, though, it feels largely redundant.

[UPDATE: Here's the Chronicle review. He didn't even particularly like the music, and he concludes by saying that "
the two-CD set is a bit too much of a pretty good thing."]


Anonymous said...

Hmm. I have Infinite Joy on my iTunes thanks to you, and I have listened to some of the tracks, but I think I would like it better if I could hear the songs in their original contexts before hearing them in a revue. But that could be a matter of individual preference.


BGreen said...

Well, "context" is actually a little tricky in this instance.

"Anytime," "Infinite Joy," "When the Earth Stopped Turning" (all of which are on both "Infinite Joy" and "Make Me a Song") and "Passover" and "Only One" (which are both on "Make Me a Song") come from "Elegies". That is not a play, there is no plot. It is a song cycle, basically about death and dying (though the songs are not morbid, the idea of the song cycle feels like they should be, and calling a show / revue / song cyle "Elegies" can be about as attractive to audiences as naming a musical "Urinetown"). So even in the context of "Elegies," there is no specific context as such.

"Mister, Make Me a Song" is a song from an unproduced show that no one has ever seen. The show and this song were written for Elaine Stritch.

Some of the other songs are just songs that he wrote, like (I think) "Republicans," "Hitchhiking Across American," "Stupid Things I Won't Do," "I Went Fishing With My Dad," and "You're Better Than You Think You Are."

The revue, "Make Me a Song," also has a "Falsettos Suite," which is a cluster of songs from "March of the Falsettos" and "Falsettoland" (which I have to confess I've never listened to in their entirety, though I've only ever heard praise for both shows).

So a good-sized chunk of these songs do not actually a context for them to have been taken out of.

BGreen said...

P.S., Almost all of the songs on "Infinite Joy" have grown on me over time. I thought they were just okay when I first heard them, but I quite like them after having heard them more.