Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hoagy Carmichael

  • Mr. Music Master [Coral, 1970] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Mr. Music Master [Coral, 1970]
Mose Allison set me to exploring the older Carmichael, a white songwriter from southern Indiana who played piano and loved jazz, and this confusing title is where I came to rest. When the creator of "Stardust" and "Georgia on My Mind" writes one called "The Old Music Master," discographical chaos will ensue. So I'm recommending neither the Pearl Mr. Music Master available at list from Amazon and elsewhere nor the Naxos Mr. Music Master available at bonkers ditto, which are different from each other and differenter from this modest '40s comp a Decca subsidiary tossed on the pile in 1970. Beginning with "Darktown Strutters' Ball," the only one he didn't write, and ending with the thematically related "Old Man Harlem," it's never been a CD, and although Discogs has the vinyl cheap as I write, I suggest streaming--from Spotify, Napster, Google Play. I picked it out because it lets Carmichael sing and play--brass is deployed to color or comment rather than enlarge trio arrangements that are often left to signify on their own, and no choral sweetening bedizens a talky voice that these days could pass for accomplished. Beyond "Stardust," "Georgia," and "Memphis in June," the songs are light-hearted when they're not full novelties like "He Killed 'Er," 'er being a black widow spider. In the title song, a young colored prophet advises some pal of Beethoven to "play that rhythm faster." Then he predicts music history through 1935. And then: "He hit a chord that rocked the spinet / And disappeared into the infinite." As it happens, Carmichael was a Republican back when that wasn't always a bad thing. But he did love jazz. A-