People might not know the name, but everyone knows Leon Redbone. The immediately recognizable, trademark baritone that croons and warbles with touches of Fats Waller and Bing Crosby is as much a signature as his iconic look of white hat, full moustache and dark sunglasses. Unfortunately, too many only know him as the guy who sang the theme song to Mr. Belvedere, and that’s their loss because Redbone is the living embodiment of a museum exhibit, faithfully keeping alive early 20th century popular music, especially ragtime and blues.
During this concert in Paris, he was on tour in support of “Up A Lazy River,” which came out the same year. He performs four tracks from the album with a trio of outstanding performers, New Orleans cornetist Scott Black, pianist David Boeddinghaus, and the brilliant guitarist Frank Vignola.
The rest of the set list is comprised of his usual mix of traditional songs arranged by Redbone like “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “Sweet Mama, Papa’s Gettin’ Mad,” and covers by well-known artists, such as Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’ (I’m Savin’ My Love For You)”, and Irving Berlin’s “Marie.” They play a mixture of tempos, ranging from slow waltzes, “Think Of Me Thinking Of You”, to jaunty toe-tappers, “Waitin’ On You.”
What is shocking is that four songs are Redbone originals. They are completely authentic and never stray into parody. “Goodbye Charlie Blues” oozes Mississippi Delta and I was surprised not to read C. Patton R. Johnson listed as the song’s author. Redbone plays with the vocals, making his voice slightly incoherent as the narrator proclaims his love for whiskey. It’s subtle, but a perfect artistic choice.
The audience is respectful, but their enthusiasm and appreciation grow louder with each song. They respond with polite applause to the opening line, “A French café/” from “Play Gypsy Play,” a song that has Vignola playing outstanding Django Reinhardt flourishes. The crowd claps along to the playful instrumental, “The Whistling Colonel,” which showcases Redbone’s marvelous whistling skills that even a bird would envy. They even get into the act shouting response with the band during “Gotta Shake That Thing.”
The oddest moment of the set is a song called, “Csdaras,” a recording of a Hungarian soprano. The audience is laughing, so there had to be some visuals attached to it, but it doesn’t translate to CD.
As Leon Redbone keeps the flame alive of a bygone era, he provides an important history lesson of early 20th century popular music that is a pleasure to experience. Live – October 26, 1992 collects 71 minutes of his artistry and is a perfect place to start learning about him and the music he plays.