Finely Done For Sure
Review of: Such Things are Finely Done
(also mentions Live at Dark-Thirty)
(By Arthur Wood, Founding Editor, Folkwax, 11/19/03)
Nearly three decades back, Michael Smith and his beloved wife Barbara, Detroit residents at the time, cut the live album Zen. Back in the days when Bruce Kaplan [d. 1992], the founder of the Flying Fish record label, was still with us, a live Michael Smith disc recorded at Fitzgerald's in Chicago was mooted but eventually failed to materialise. Recent years have seen Michael and Barbara take the stage Stateside as part of Weavermania! That quartet issued the Live CD a couple of years back. The foregoing neatly brings us to late 2003 and the appearance of not one, but two Michael Peter Smith live recordings. This review will principally focus on Such Things Are Finely Done, recorded during a concert in the "Tales From The Tavern" series.
It's a collection of thirteen songs [including an non-credited reading of "Dialing," Michael's 30-second-long sardonic tribute to the technological curse that society has, in recent decades, willingly grasped with both hands], four jokes and for openers - Rone Colone's short'n'snappy introduction. The recording session took place at Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos, California, on Friday February 28, 2003. Of the aforementioned baker's dozen, a handful and respectively "The Princess & The Frog," "Famous In France," "Zippy," "Honey To The Hive" and the album title cut that closes the collection, are new additions to Smith's recorded oeuvre. Thankfully Michael's song introductions - sometimes humorous, always insightful - have been left intact and they, frankly, add greatly to the overall impact of each performance. "Sister Clarissa," "Ballad Of Elizabeth Dark," "I Brought My Father With Me" and "Something About Twist" reprise Michael's stunning autobiography in song Michael, Margaret, Pat And Kate [1994/1999] [See Note 1]. I've witnessed in the past that the latter album was the finest song collection to be released during the twentieth century, and I'll stand on absolutely anybody's coffee table - famous and anonymous - and repeat that truth till you all finally get the message. Making up the complement of familiar Smith tunes is the decades old pairing of the classic paean to eternal love "The Dutchman" and the dreamy south seas celebration "Move Over Mr. Gauguin," plus the more recent addition "There."
OK, time to return to the quintet of new MPS songs. With a late twentieth/early twenty-first century edge, when Michael Peter composes a humorous lyric you'd better listen - and closely. Three of the new tunes fit the rib-tickling template. As for Smith's ingenuity and subtlety in stringing words together think, "a modern day Noel Coward." Thankfully [again!] the liner booklet features the song lyrics in full, so there's nary a word [or punch line!] that you'll miss. Set in the mode of that spirited homage, the movie Shrek, "The Princess & The Frog" pilfers and purloins blatantly from the world of fairy tales, adds numerous references to 20th Century movie stars, writers and more [Victor McLaglen, Truman Capote and Timothy Leary], and is delivered in an accent that is shamrock green. In fact [is it coincidental, that?] in three consecutive lines Smith name checks Maureen O'Hara [the bride], Barry Fitzgerald [the matchmaker] and McLaglen [the bride's broth of a brother], who starred alongside Marion Michael Morrison [See Note 2] in the 1952 movie The Quiet Man. Smith's humour is sharp, surreal and can also be as stinging as a paper cut. When Fred, the frog, asks the Princess for a kiss, she retorts "But laddie let's make it swift, For lately falls the hour, And I'm due home for me evening shift of, Pining in the tower."
Pursuing further the theme of web-footed amphibians [See Note 3], "Famous In France," set at a waltz pace, is a verbal romp through many things Gallic. Mention of Champs Elysees, Maurice Chevalier, mon ami and brie should provide an inkling of where Michael's lyric delves. If the foregoing pairing fails to bring tears of laughter and aching ribs, "Zippy" most certainly will. Spanning the era, 1968 to date, and mentioning personalities, fashions and inventions, it's a tribute to the bright shiny bustling world you will discover [or, conversely, the nightmare your life will become] when the effect of long-term inhalation of the weed wears off. I know that Michael was, at one stage, contemplating recording an album of his humorous songs, but this setting for the foregoing trio perfectly suits their arrival in the public domain. "Honey To The Hive" is anthemic in conception and a celebration [of life] in execution, while "Such Things Are Finely Done" is an observation upon our universe, and the turning of the each earthly day and season. The closing lines - "There's doubt for those with evidence, And faith for those with none" - perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty of the human condition.
Recorded at a Lakeside, California house concert series, a mere forty-eight hours after Such Things Are Finely Done, Michael Peter Smith - Live At Dark-Thirty is a nineteen track collection - fourteen songs and a handful of spoken narratives - of which only half a dozen tunes also appear on Such Things Are Finely Done. Both are essential listening experiences, and Dark-Thirty also includes compositions previously unrecorded by Smith as a solo act. Currently Such Things Are Finely Done and Live At Dark-Thirty, which were released practically concurrently [well, actually the latter was issued around a month after Such Things...], are only available from Michael's web site (www.michaelsmithmusic.com).
#1 - And still available from www.folkera.com. Return
#2 - aka "Duke." OK, John Wayne. The Quiet Man was set in Ireland. Return
#3 - Here in the islands of Britannia, we lovingly refer to the Gauloise-puffing brotherhood across the English Channel as "frogs." A species that, according to legend, their gastronomic code dictates they devour. Return
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