Alabamy Bound & Darktown Strutters Ball (Les Paul & Mary Ford)

A reasonably fascinating insight into a time when the unholy television-consumerism pact was still in metaphorical short trousers. Les Paul was American music’s one-man innovating starburst, crucial to the birth of the modern electric guitar and multi-track recording, as well as being a wildly entertaining master of his instrument. Mary Ford was a honey-voiced chanteuse, an able guitarist in her own right, and Paul’s comedy foil. She was also his wife.

In the early 1950s, the two starred in a series of comedic shorts filmed at their home, sponsored by halitosis-busting antiseptic merchants Listerine. They’re a portal into the saccharin-sweet white picket-fenced ideal of American respectability circa 1954 – a respectability which, like Victorian England’s before it, hid a fair amount of seediness. Continue reading “Alabamy Bound & Darktown Strutters Ball (Les Paul & Mary Ford)”

Les Paul/Nat King Cole – Sweet Lorraine

Musically, the Bemolution is grossly hypocritical. If a modern artist delivered an album of schmaltz-songs as silkily inoffensive as ‘Jazzman’, a half-live half-compilation album showcasing the late Les Paul, it would smear it and them into the creases of the world. But for some reason, saccharine lazy-Sunday aesthetic somehow becomes acceptable when it’s old, as the carefree waft of this Paul/Nat King Cole collaboration attests. Plucked from a squaddie-pleasing US Armed Forces Radio broadcast – from 1944 believe it or not – ‘Sweet Lorraine’ sees Paul’s ingenious noodling twinned with Cole’s enthralling purr, and the pair backed by a band-full of stellar players. The Bemolution’s standard intense dislike of cutesy-pie love lyrics is temporarily disabled, because it’s literally impossible not to enjoy that man’s voice on some level. Cole certainly deemed it worth maintaining, smoking three packets of Menthol cigarettes a day in the hope of keeping his unmistakable smooth baritone in top condition. Unfortunately, this practise also led to the inoperable lung cancer that killed him at 45. Oh well. Suffering for one’s art and all that.