By Erin Harrington
The Vagabond Opera’s self-titled album hit the shelves just last year. It didn’t receive critical acclaim from the New York Times, nor did it reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts, but this album’s uniquely dark humor and dynamic charm make it worthy of a listen.
The mood and character of this album could be most appropriately explained with the hypothetical audience conversation that occurs in the middle of the album during the song “Ravella.” The playfully upbeat, yet slightly twisted conversation goes as follows:
Performer: Friends, have you ever had it all? The glittering gold? The fortune? The girl? And then it was gone in one spin of the wheel, one drop of the cards, and one wink of an eye?
Imaginary Audience: Yes â€¦ I mean no â€¦ I mean yes, but why don’t you tell us all about it in song form using riverboat imagery and perhaps a monkey or two?
This self-titled collection of music takes the listener on a journey through many countries and music genres.
Just a few identifying phrases for the music are as follows: 1920s smooth, hot jazz, swing, tango, burlesque, Yiddish world theatre, and, according to the band’s website, “Cabaret Gypsy Klezmer Music Jazz Band.” The dynamics of rhythm and style in the music are as multitudinous as these identifying phrases.
Among the wide variety of instruments appearing in the reportaire are a ripping accordion, a melancholy and wailing violin, a pounding piano and an ever-changing rhythm section that will always keep a listener on his or her toes.
On top of this cacophony of indulgently mesmerizing instrumentation, two opera-trained vocalists, a tenor and a soprano, wail out fearless emotion — sometimes at pitches higher than a high C (and in about five different languages, to boot).
Some highlights include the songs Svi Te Terren, Ravella, Hijazz, and Carnivale Song. Svi Te Terren begins with a harmonious onslaught of la-lai-lais and a slightly lazy and sliding saxophone.
The constant decrescendo followed by slowly rising crescendo keeps the listener wondering what’s next.
Listeners are ultimately smacked in the face with a rising rhythm section, gripping vocals, and are left with a pleasingly a capella ending.
Ravella is a boisterous song with sad but quirky vocals and a brief dedication to the infamous “Dueling Banjos.”
Hijazz begins with a tear-jerking cello solo and keeps listeners engaged with jazzy use of high hat and cymbals.
“Carnivale Song” is creepily amusing, with its twistedly comical lyrics.
The sad truth of this album is that it doesn’t fit in with a music culture that has come to accept drolly mediocre tunes.
The most popular music of our time seems to always be playing it safe. Such a unique, fresh album will never make it to platinum, but definitely deserves a second listen.
This album has, in the words of “Carnivale Song,” “More freckles than a polar bear making smoothies in a blender.”