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19 Sep 2016

Moondog “'H'art Songs’ 1979 UK classical avant garde experimental






Moondog  “'H'art Songs’ 1979 UK classical avant garde experimental
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Moondog’s 1979 release, H'art Songs, is a collection of, yes, little ditties. All the songs here have a simple, traditional song structure, minimally orchestrated with voice, piano, and the occasional gong or drum. There are very few (if any) chord changes throughout the whole disc, and the chord changes that are present here are very repetitive. The melodies, however, have a grandiose or celestial feel to them, making the music feel bigger or fuller than it is — and it is this that really makes the music exciting, utilizing unusual chord structures. Lyrics are decidedly political, featuring songs about animal rights, pacifism, the evils of eating meat, and a biting critique of modern colonial expansion. The piano parts are primarily in the upper registers, and this gives the music a chimey sound which compliments Moondog’s baritone voice very nicely. A bit too singsongy for more pedestrian tastes and so political that the art suffers somewhat. An interesting turn for Moondog from his more complex compositions. ~ Mark W. B. Allender, Rovi …. 

In contrast to his self-titled 1969 album, which consisted of full orchestral interpretations of Moondog works (and which included relatively little in the way of performance by Moondog himself), this 1971 album was devoted to minimally arranged madrigals, rounds, and canons. Only acoustic instruments were used; the harpsichord was the most prominent, but there were also recorder, celeste, piano, and guitar. Moondog and his daughter June achieved choral effects through overdubbing, and repetitive, shaking percussion formed the rhythmic basis. The uplifting melodies, as well as the light-of-heart, whimsical execution, give this an innocuous but not sappy feel, yet there’s still enough eccentricity to attract the experimental crowd. It does get a bit maddening over the course of 26 rounds…… 

A year after the thoroughly gloomy “Moondog in Europe,” Moondog released the jovial “H’art Songs;” his first LP not to bear his name in the title, and the record that forever proved his genius. This collection of piano pop songs made his stunningly eclectic discography even more chaotic musically, but also featured some of his most mesmerizing wordplay ever recorded. Although not actually written as haikus, the lyrics have that same sort of feel and manage to tell tales that can be seen as metaphors for living life. Sometimes political, sometimes autobiographical, sometimes nature loving, they are always intriguingly poetic and help push this effort to the very top of all Moondog’s releases. 

While the lyrics are made that much more compelling by Moondog’s grandfatherly, sage-worthy voice, the quirky music, as always, is the real force behind the brilliance of the album. Each song features Fritz Storfinger on piano with Moondog on percussion, and the two really mesh together well, creating a warped, childlike innocence within each track. The entire record reminds me of that trippy “Elephants on Parade” section in Dumbo. Okay it is a cartoon, okay it is supposed to be uncomplicated…but there is a sincere, frightening semblance of reality that makes it all so eerily interesting. 

The mood is perfectly set with the opening “Pigmy Pig,” featuring terrifying pig-squealing Deliverance noises in the background, and carnival piano chords played with a start-stop melody. Moondog’s voice sounds barking mad and the entire track is slightly disturbing in an Umpa Lumpa way. The lyrics seem to state that killing a plant is no different from killing an animal, but might actually be about nothing at all… regardless, the closing piano solo is absolutely killer and the tune is loony enough to really enjoy in a perverse way. 

As normal as the previous track was weird, “High On A Rocky Ledge” is musically as traditional a song as Moondog ever recorded. In fact, the very first time you hear it, you’re positive you’ve heard those catchy chords before…the melody is that memorable. The tune is as beautiful and timeless as a slow and boring song can possibly be, but the Romeo-Juliet dual suicide lyrics make the song that much more creepy and effective. “Choo-Choo Lullaby” follows and is another instantly memorable melody with its pulsating, jolly piano. The verse and chorus are pleasant and easy going, but the middle eighth and coda feature a demented, pounding organ that sounds exactly like a train chugging down the tracks, which doesn’t really fit in with the tune and manages to be more than a little unsettling. At six minutes, this is far too long overall, but the aura fits in so nicely with the slightly batty mood of the record, that you barely seem to notice the length. 

For better or worse, Moondog’s noteworthy strange percussion returns on “I’m Just A Hop Head.” This is much more similar to the sound of his rounds on “Moondog 2,” with all the charm of that entire album, and some of the most grooving piano fills you’ll ever hear. This time the lyrics deal with the age-old lesson that too much of a good thing can kill you, but in Moondog’s world, that too-much-enjoyed-thing is…hopping. The dark and stylish “Here’s To John Wesley Hardin” is Moondog’s seven-minute tribute to his infamous, Wild West, gun-slinging ascendant. His voice is deeper here, and double-tracked to the point that he sounds exactly like those Winkie guards that protect the castle of the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. The lyrics are strangely phrased, similar to how a foreigner uses English…you get the point, but the wording is slightly off in a colorful way that makes you appreciate language that much more. 

The second side opens with the music-hallish “I’m In The World.” Like “Eclipse” from “Dark Side of the Moon,” this tune is a role call of world problems and predicaments, but although the lyrics are cute, this isn’t one of the better offerings on the record. Conversely, “Do Your Thing!” is the highlight of the album and probably Moondog’s most agreeable poppy tune. The lyrics are just so positive…Moondog sharing his wonderful Franklinisms with the world: “Don’t regret! What might have been, you might as well forget. Learn to wait. And while your waiting, learn to concentrate. Make your mark! If need be, even make it in the dark.” With a bouncy piano backbeat and Moondog’s most polished singing, this is easily one of his best overall songs. 

The subsequent “Enough About Human Rights” is a funny, foreboding, Old World piano offering, dealing with the rest of the living world and its rights—slug rights, bug rights, whale rights, snail rights, bass rights, ass rights, worm rights, germ rights, seal rights, eel rights, etc… The tune is bleak and baffling, but poignant. “I’m This, I’m That” is a back and forth, inspirational guide to tolerance. Although nothing mind-blowing in the lyrics or the melody, and a shade too long, this is still catchy, charming, and a pleasant enough ditty, with the closing “I’m I, I’m U” particularly gripping. 

“Aska Me” is more opera sounding than the rest of the album, but rivals “Do Your Thing!” as the best song. It deals with the purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia, including the infamous “Seward’s Folly,” and includes accurate dates and places. Unsurprisingly, Moondog sides with the Tlingits and their culture (the tribe of Indigenous People, probably most greatly effected by the change of ownership). This is one of his all time best efforts with perfectly placed handclaps and panting dogs, and featuring an insanely amazing coda. 

“H’art Songs” is one of those albums that takes a while to really grow on you. At first glance, the lyrics seem basic, but they are actually some of the most curiously resonant I’ve heard from any artist and add a touch of insight into Moondog’s character, making this album far more personal than his previous efforts. The melodies too, seem so simple, but Storfinger’s piano is so inviting that it also helps aid in the intimacy. More than any of Moondog’s catalog, this album fits his image of sage-hobo…a homeless, starving artist with just his songs and poems for comfort. And it is a true testament to his perseverance, diverse tastes, and amazing songs that a blind man that lived for thirty years without a home could make a listener feel so welcome….by almost credible….. 

Pigmy Pig 
High on a Rocky Ledge 
Choo Choo Lullaby 
I’m Just a Hop Head 
Here’s to John Wesley Hardin 
I’m in the World 
Do Your Thing 
Enough About Human Rights 
I’m this, I’m That 
Aska Me

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..

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