If you had to go away for awhile and you could only take five of your favorite albums with you, which ones would you choose? Yes, we know it isn’t a fair question, but that hasn’t stopped us from asking music fans who happen to be recording artists in their own right. This edition of Desert Island Discs comes courtesy of Randy Kaplan, whose latest LP, Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, is out now.
You’re not kidding me, this IS hard. I am cyclically obsessed with many different types of music, from blues to opera to Broadway to folk to jazz to classical to calypso to microtonal to ’80s pop… you name it. And I can easily pick at least ten essential recordings in each of those categories! But I’ll acquiesce and stick to five discs for my desert island sabbatical. Alas, I’ll have to live without some of my favorite music. Can I at least bring my guitar?
Blind Boy Fuller — Complete Recorded Works (6 Volumes)
Is this cheating? Kind of like asking a genie if my first wish could be for ten more wishes? In any event, these are all the recordings Blind Boy Fuller ever made. They span the years 1935-1940. Fuller was a master of Piedmont blues. That’s a finger-pickin’ style I love and work in. Fuller is one of my favorite singers, lyricists, musicians, and performers. I based several songs on my new CD (Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie) on Blind Boy Fuller’s songs. It’s hard to pass up Blind Blake (the King of Ragtime Guitar) and Robert Johnson (the King of the Delta Blues) but since I’m limiting myself to one blues recording I’m gonna go with this one… well, these six!
Anthology of American Folk Music
This mystical collection (six CDs) was originally compiled by Harry Smith from his collection of rare 78s. If you’re a fan of the folk revivalists of the 1960s (Bob Dylan in particular) you will be amazed by many of these songs. This here is the earliest source material recorded for most of the folk songs we know! In addition to the ballads, blues, country, and folk songs there are Cajun and gospel numbers along with some very strange instrumentals. Some of the performers are blues masters (Furry Lewis, Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt) and some are country giants (The Carter Family, Clarence Ashley, Charlie Poole) but the vast majority of them are quite obscure. The haunting collection comes with an extensive booklet of amazing liner notes along with a reproduction of Harry Smith’s own original liner notes booklet which is more of a postmodern work of art and stockpile of arcane esoterica. These discs are more than an anthology. They’re a mythology.
I’ll have to insist on the original cast album from 1943. I can listen to this recording of the first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II non-stop (I once did on a drive from Lawrence, Kansas to Los Angeles). Stephen Sondheim is my overall favorite Broadway composer/lyricist but he was mentored by Mr. Hammerstein and this is Oscar’s greatest achievement. I like the film version too, even though they changed some of the lyrics, judging them to be too edgy for mass consumption. Can you imagine that?! Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Lee Dixon, Howard da Silva, and the hilarious Celeste Holm are all part of this perfect cast. But, you say, why not listen to a later recording, one of much higher technical quality? Ha! I answer. Don’t you know by now that I prefer lo-fi and relatively ancient relics? Perhaps if any subsequent recording were half as good as this one… but none are. The original film cast comes closest.
Trojan Calypso Box Set
Another genie situation, this collection contains 50 songs on three CDs. Lord Kitchener is my absolute favorite calypsonian and a few of his gems are on offer here. Also making appearances are these great masters of the genre: Count Lasher, Lord Creator, Mighty Sparrow, Lord Invader, Ben Bowers, Baldhead Growler (can’t find this guy anywhere else), Mighty Dougla (or him for that matter), and many more. Talk about edgy lyrics; man, keep this with your push-down-and-turn medicine bottles. I hate to leave early masters like Lord Executor, Growling Tiger, and Lord Pretender at home but, overall, this box set will serve me well while I’m sequestered on that beach of sand. Most of the songs here are from my favorite calypso period, that kind of middle phase when that joyous sound evolved from the early more New Orleans jazzlike style and before the Soca trend made the lyrically intensive calypsos sound more like dance music. Man, this stuff is good.
Well, I haven’t chosen any concert music yet… or opera. Not to mention jazz or… the list goes on and on. I’m gonna have to go with something classy here, if not classical. What will it be? The symphonies of Brahms? The string quartets of Dvorak? Maybe an opera is in order. Yes. An opera. But what’ll it be? Don Giovanni? Don Carlos? La Fanciulla Del West? Ya know, I think I’ll leave Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini at home this time ’round and take The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. Yes, this opera buffa will serve me well while suntanning against my will; cracking open coconuts and chomping on tropical leaves will surely be easier to take with this record in tow. I’ll risk the ire of purists and choose the English National Opera version. I’ll just have to have faith that I’ll eventually get off the island and be reunited with all the musicianers I’ve had to forsake.