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Shel Silverstein
Twistable Turnable Man
Review By Steven Stone
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  Musical comedian Shel Silverstein wrote many songs during his long career. Some were the melodic and lyrical equivalents of one-liners, but others were and are gems, as you will discover on the new Sugar Hill compilation Twistable Turnable Man.

Produced by longtime friend and collaborator Bobby Bare Sr. with help from his son Bobby Bare Jr. and his son, Twistable Turnable Man features performances by John Prine, Andrew Bird, Kris Kristofferson, My Morning Jacket, Todd Snider, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, Sarah Jarosz with Black Prairie, and Bobby Bare Sr. and Jr. The senior Bare makes an excellent producer, given his long history with Silverstein. Bare Sr. said, "We were very fortunate to be in a position to only work with people we were fans of." Some, such as the Pixies lead singer, Frank Black, were suggested by the younger Bare. "See, I didn't know who Frank Black was." Sr. Bare admits.

Multiple musical highlights on Twistable Turnable Man include Black's version of "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." The heavy metal guitar tones raise the raucousness level to def-con 3. Other prime cuts include John Prine's rendition of "This Guitar is For Sale." Prine makes the tune contemporary by recording it with a Spartan, and primarily acoustic, arrangement. "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" performed by Lucinda Williams features vocals that are almost as haggard sounding as Maryanne Faithfull's were on the original version.

The most daunting song to cover on the album was undoubtedly "A Boy Named Sue." Johnny Cash's original was and is still the definitive version, but Todd Snider's is more than listenable, and believable. My fave cut on the album is "Queen of the Silver Dollar" performed by Sarah Jarosz with Black Prairie. She brings a gothic approach to the tune that turns it from a barroom rollick into a Twilight-tinged cautionary tale. Finally I'd be remiss not to mention Andrew Bird's take on the title tune. His processed vocals combined with fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a synthesizer string section is weird, cute, strange, and very much something that Shel Silverstein, if he were alive today, would like.

 

 

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