Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Their Charm Is Sad and Deep

Brian Dewan, Words
of Wisdom, Eschatone Records [11/13/07]

I cannot sing the old songs
Their charm is sad and deep
Their melodies would waken
Old sorrows from their sleep / And though all unforgotten still
And sadly sweet they be / I cannot sing the old songs / They are too dear to me / I cannot sing the old songs / I sang long years ago / For heart and voice would fail me / And foolish tears would flow / For bygone hours come o'er my heart / With each familiar strain / I cannot sing the old songs / Or dream those dreams again.

Like Yo la Tengo's Fakebook, Words of Wisdom—subtitled
The Humanitarium Series: Volume One—is a collection of cover songs. Only three artists are cited, however, since the other 13 old-timey folk numbers were penned by "unnamed persons."

The press notes explain
that Brian Dewan "unearth-
ed [these songs] in old schoolbooks, garage sales,
and in attics and basements." He's also been kind enough
to include the fanciful and poignant lyrics as part of the gatefold packaging, for which he provided the watercolor paintings [see below].

Here are the words to "Tobacco's But an Indian Weed" (for
my chain-smoking friend Clarke...who never visits my site):

Tobacco's but an Indian weed / Grows green at morn, cut
down at eve / It shows our decay, we are but clay / Think
on this when you smoke tobacco / The pipe that is so lily white
In which so many take delight / Gone with a touch, man's
life is such / Think on this when you smoke tobacco / The
pipe that is so foul within / Shows how the soul is stained
with sin / It doth require the purging fire / Think on this
when you smoke tobacco / The ashes that are left behind
Doth serve to put us all in mind / That unto dust return we must
Think on this when you smoke tobacco / The smoke that doth so
high ascend / Shows that our life must have an end / The vapor's
gone, man's life is done / Think on this when you smoke tobacco.

If you're wondering why Dewan has only released three records in 14 years, it's because he's been providing album artwork for the likes of David Byrne (Uh-Oh), They Might Be Giants (Lincoln), and Neutral Milk Hotel (the interior of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea).

His piece for the latter ("Flying Victrola") is almost as enchanting as Jeff Mangum's magnum opus. The notes indicate he's also worked on projects for Sesame Street and the Blue Man Group.

Dewan's follow-up to Brian Dewan Tells the Story (1993) and The Operating Theatre (1998) is a one-man affair with the artist on autoharp, electric zither, organ, and accordion.

Of the solo efforts I've heard this year, Words of Wisdom is among the best, though I have mixed feelings about "The Mountaineer's Wedding," on which Dewan—Shakespeare-style—plays both parts. The point of a true solo project is to handle everything by yourself, but I would've preferred a fe-
male voice to a male falsetto. But hey: A for effort.

Click here to listen to "Only a Brake-
man" and here for "Words of Wisdom."

Endnote: The great thing about having a blog your friends
never read: You can talk about them with impunity, and they'll never know. Huzzah! Seriously, I know of two who drop by on occasion, but everyone else is fair game... For more information about Brian Dewan, please see his official website or his MySpace Page. Images from the Planetary Group and the All Music Guide (Byrne's Uh-Oh and They Might Be Giants' Lincoln).

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