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Reclinerland - The Ideal Home Music Library, Volume 1: Show Songs

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Artist: Reclinerland

Album: The Ideal Home Music Library, Volume 1: Show Songs

Label: Hush

Review date: Feb. 17, 2004

The Ideal Home Music Library, Volume I: Show Songs purports to be the work of one Dr. Tad Middling, a musicologist who, on happening upon a hidden cache of “forgotten melodies, strains, ballads, airs, and ditties,” entrusted them to Reclinerland’s Michael Johnson for recording purposes. Dr. Middling and his songs are, of course, fictional, but the conceit provides Johnson with the framework for a rather complex concept album; he attributes each track on the album to a songwriter of 1930s& ’40s “show songs,” in the tradition of Rogers and Hart, and George and Ira Gershwin, providing a detailed biography for each composer.

While it may be something of stretch to say that Johnson actually writes in character (most of the songs couldn’t pass for vintage compositions), his variations on the showtune format are often quite impressive; generally they’re just goofy enough to let us know he’s kidding, but executed with a musical seriousness that renders them more than self-indulgent novelties.

Consistent tone and style aren’t really major problems for Johnson; indeed it’s clear that all of the songs here, despite their attributions to different composers, flow from the same pen, and they cohere quite well as a whole. Less consistent, however, is the actual execution: several of the guest vocalists on The Ideal Home Music Library, notably Norfolk and Western’s Adam Selzer, simply can’t handle the material convincingly. The fact that Johnson’s own vocals are so strong (and stylistically appropriate to the format) makes his delegation of vocal duties to the less capable doubly confusing. The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, however, proves a welcome exception, infusing the Scott Joplin-inspired “The Lady from Riems” with a level of energy and enthusiasm that elevates it above most of the tracks. It’s so good, in fact, that one can imagine Johnson and Meloy collaborating on a whole album of such material; given Meloy’s penchant for nostalgia, it could be a match made in heaven.

Judging from the amount of amusement Reclinerland seems to derive from The Ideal Home Music Library’s copious liner notes and detailed fictions, it’s tempting to see the album as little more than a self-indulgent exercise; one gets the sense that the band is probably having more fun with it than their listeners will. While some of the album’s weaker tracks (particularly the rather dull ballads) seem to support this theory, the bright moments are more than enough to compensate. The Ideal Home Music Library could, in fact, use some editing, but the humor and ebullience that shine through at its best moments are impressive enough that a second volume of Dr. Middling’s findings would not be unwelcome.

By Michael Cramer

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