FAME Review: Amanda Thorpe - Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg
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Amanda Thorpe - Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg

Bewitching Me:
The Lyrics of Yip Harburg

Amanda Thorpe

Rubric Records - RzR-2027-3

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
(progdawg@hotmail.com)

An homage to Yip Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg, later self-dubbed 'Edgar Yipsel Harburg') has been long long long overdue. Yip was an interesting character, a rather profound Leftie who was buddies with Ira Gershwin through, among sundry other things, an affection for Gilbert & Sullivan (in my estimation: those cats were two gods fallen to Earth; it figgers they'd land in England). Coincidentally, Yip's father had been educated not only by Gilbert but also one of the most imperishable cynics and satirists ever to visit this planet: George Bernard Shaw. No surprise, then, that sire engendered in son a deep sense of justice, dissidence, and the conviction that "humor is an act of courage". Interestingly, songwriting arose in Yip because, as co-owner of Consolidated Electrical Appliance Company, which went belly up with $50-70K in debt, he insisted on paying the debts off over decades rather than dismissing them. Gershwin was a factor in influencing the start of Harburg's career as a means to do that.

From this came his verses for Jay Gorney's Brother, Can You Spare a Dime Depression hit, then Hollywood contracts, and a legend was swiftly born, a guy who'd pen one of the most enduring of all modern songs: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (which first undergoes a strikingly understated Northern Plains treatment here and then exaltation, ending in the skies and sun). Amanda Thorpe understood just how much Harburg has been, in her own words, "compared with some of his contemporaries, relatively under-appreciated", and, hoo boy! amen to that, sister, amen. So she set to enshrine 14 of his imperishable ditties in a leaves-falling-in-Autumn voice, a wistful airy romantic tone that soothes and relaxes as it seduces the ear into Harburg's intriguing, clever, and very hip insights into the human heart and its surrounding conditions…if, that is, you're literate enough to get all his many variegated metaphors, many of them as fanciful as anything Dr. Seuss or S.J. Perelman ever set to paper. I've used Paper Moon and other Harburg classics while teaching Critical Analysis sessions, to marvelous effect.

Thorpe couldn't have chosen a better or more unusual guitarist than Tony Scherr, who comes off as a combination of the old-days Jeff Beck and Lowell George, providing a Southern roadside contrast to her lullabyes-n-fairytales encantations. The result of she and he reminds me at different times of the work of Donovan, a very sedate Mary Fahl, Dusty Springfield at her softest but with a hip twang, and Emmylou Harris at her most mellifluous…but also spunky when called for. Willow in the Wind is particularly affective, almost spooky in its dolorous sentimentations, a low key take that seeps into you like fog. In fact, Bewitching Me is a CD to help close the day as stars start to emerge, blue turns to deep violet, then to ebony, and you wonder about all the wonders and tragedy in the Everyday…until Then I'll be Tired of You reminds the deepening introspection that there are a few things which make it all worthwhile.

Track List:

  • April in Paris (Duke / Harburg)
  • Old Devil Moon (Arlen / Harburg)
  • When I'm Not Near the Man I Love (Lane / Harburg)
  • I'm Yours (Green / Harburg)
  • Last Night When We Were Young (Arlen / Harburg)
  • Willow in the Wind (not credited / Harburg)
  • Buds Won't Bud (Arlen / Harburg)
  • Brother, Can You Spare Me a Dime (Gorney / Harburg)
  • It's Only a Paper Moon (Arlen / Harburg)
  • I Like the Likes of You (Duke / Harburg)
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Arlen / Harburg)
  • Adrift On a Star (Offenbach / Harburg)
  • Paris Is a Lonely Town (Arlen / Harburg)
  • Then I'll Be Tired of You (Schwartz / Harburg)

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
 
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