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CD Review: Shel Silverstein – The Best Of Shel Silverstein His Words His Songs His Friends

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I came to enjoy Shel Silverstein’s work the way most have; as a young child, but it wasn’t through his books, it was through the Bobby Bare Lullaby’s, Legends, & Lies album. My father used to play the record often and I was a nut for the song about the voodoo woman “Marie Laveau”. I loved the swamp funk music and the scream that came before the line, “another man done gone”, but there was another cut on the record I liked almost as much. It was the sappy and sentimental “Daddy What If” which featured a very young Bobby Bare Jr. singing along with his father. I liked to sing too and here was a kid about my age doing it on a record. It made an impression on me then and now there’s an even deeper emotional connection wrapped up in the memories of listening to the music with my father. I didn’t know who had penned those great songs Bobby Bare was singing, but as I grew older I discovered the genius of Shel Silverstein and The Best Of Shel Silverstein His Words His Songs His Friends is perfect for new fans and old wanting a single disc overview of his musical and literary career.

Shel Silverstein was a bit of an eccentric even by Sixties standards. While everybody was growing their hair down their back, he sported a shaved head. He worked for years at Playboy as an editor and cartoonist, wrote one of the biggest smashes to ever come from the folk music scene, “Unicorn” performed by The Irish Rovers, and then became a hit songwriter in Nashville along with becoming an acclaimed author of children’s books. His songs were often comical and sometimes bawdy while a book like The Giving Tree could make even adults shed a tear at its sweetness.

There are plenty of snippets from Shel’s spoken word albums including one of my favorites, “Sara Cynthia Sylvia Stout”, who was a girl who just would not take the garbage out. Shel’s growling hipster voice is a complete delight able to make every word funny. Some of his musical efforts are included also like “Front Row To Hear Old Johnny Sing” where the singer goes to the most extreme lengths just to be able to get to sit in the front row of a Johnny Cash concert and the cautionary tale of “I Got Stoned And I Missed It” which pre-dates Afro-man’s “I Got High” by almost three decades. The other big treat of this CD is that it compiles together many of Shel’s most well known songs as performed by those who popularized them.

Shel certainly can’t be blamed for Dr. Hook’s later forays into pop pabulum, because while they covering Shel’s songs they were a joy. They were fun, funky, and great interpreters of his material. “Cover Of The Rolling Stone” is a must have for this music junkie. We also get the afore mentioned Bobby Bare material, the Irish Rovers hit, Shel’s songwriting buddy Kris Kristofferson, and of course Johnny Cash’s version of a “Boy Named Sue” performed at San Quentin.

These songs are all interspersed with Shel’s spoken word pieces which create an intimate feel and while this album may not provoke the tide of memories it does it for me, it should definitely make you feel good. It’s easy to find music today that can make you angry, but it takes a real artist to get you to laugh and cry. Shel was a real artist.

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  • http://wp.blogcritics.org Joe Battista

    I really wish there was a compilation out there that focused on Silverstein’s country songwriting. Though this compilation touches on that work, it leaves out some of his greatest songs:
    “One’s on the Way” (Loretta Lynn), “Once More with Feeling” (Jerry Lee Lewis), and “Put Another Log on the Fire” (Tompall Glaser). These are the kinds of songs that bands will always record. His gift for storytelling was amazing.