Joe Stilgoe – Songs on Film Live
(Beard Records, BEARDCD1. Review by Nicolas Pillai.
A confession: this was my first encounter with Joe Stilgoe. Unqualified as I am to comment on his past work, my day job as a teacher of film and television (with a research interest in jazz) meant that I was especially interested in how Stilgoe paid homage to, and reinvigorated, those songs from the silver screen. Music is integral to the way we remember and cherish cinematic experiences, and it’s to the credit of this CD that nostalgia is evoked but never indulged in this tribute to the delights of the soundtrack.
Recorded in front of an appreciative audience at St. James Studio, the programme of music combines familiar movie songs with some of Stilgoe’s own compositions. His piano and vocals are ably accompanied by Chris Hill (bass) and Ben Reynolds (drums), both of whom provide backing vocals and whom Stilgoe roguishly refers to as ‘two thirds of the Andrews Brothers’. A relaxed sense of humour runs through the performance and (without wanting to spoil any punchlines) I laughed out loud at jokes involving Nat King Cole, Kevin Bacon and cruise ships.
It all gets off to a fine start with a medley of songs from cartoons, from the ubiquitous (When You Wish Upon a Star, Looney Tunes) to the unexpected (The Smurf Song, Inspector Gadget). Stilgoe has fun with the segues and reveals previously unsuspected swing in these children’s favourites. In his hands, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ sounds like Satin Doll. Wisely, the choice of songs doesn’t restrict itself to one era – there are nods to An American in Paris (‘S’wonderful), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head), The Apartment ( Stilgoe’s own That’s the Way it Crumbles Cookie-Wise), American Graffiti (Love Potion No. 9) and Groundhog Day (Almost Like Being in Love). Unlike other thematically similar albums – Terence Blanchard’s Jazz in Film, for instance – this broad range gives the CD a pleasant edge, as other musical genres are filtered through Stilgoe’s jazz arrangements.
Personally, I could have done without High Hopes (a song that irritates me whoever’s playing it) but an old favourite like The Surrey With the Fringe On Top is given a surprisingly effective fresh lick of paint (no small achievement). Of the original songs, Popcorn is perhaps the most affecting, a paean to the old picture-palace. The CD is elegantly packaged in card covers designed to look like a clapper-board, with the disc itself resembling a film canister. The caricature of Stilgoe on the back cover conveys his wit but not his sensitivity, best represented in a tender encore of The Wizard of Oz’s ‘If I Only Had a Brain’. It’s an appropriate song upon which to close: on the evidence of this record, Stilgoe has plenty of smarts and no shortage of heart or nerve.