Various Artists – Twistable Turntable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein

January 01, 1970

(Sugar Hill)

Any attempt to neatly categorize Shel Silverstein inevitably ends up as an
exercise in futility. An author, cartoonist, broadcaster, performer, Playboy contributor and enduring
songwriter, he refused to confine himself to any single area of endeavor.  It was as the latter that he scored some of
his biggest successes, penning such songs as “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash,
“Sylvia’s Mother” and “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” for Dr. Hook and “The
Unicorn,” a worldwide hit for the Clancy Brothers. Each of those tunes
reflected his singular style, manifest in his ability to capture the offbeat
personalities and the unlikely quirks that singled out the subjects of his
songs.  While they were rarely of the
sing-along variety, the humor and pathos they conveyed were no less compelling,
and certainly no less affecting.


Considering the fact that Silverstein passed away in 1999 –
succumbing to a sudden heart attack at age 68 — a tribute seems long overdue.
The diverse and distinguished group of artists who stepped up and contributed
their talents to this collection affirms the fact that Silverstein’s material
remains a touchstone in modern music. Yet despite the offbeat approach
Silverstein took with these songs, most of these musicians – Kris
Kristofferson, Bobby Bare Jr. and Sr., My Morning Jacket, Nanci Griffith,
Lucinda Williams and John Prine, among them – play it straight, offering little
variation from the original blueprint. Todd Snider is typically tenacious in
the way he skewers the side-splitting “A Boy Named Sue,” while Black Francis’
take on “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” is both spooky and sardonic.  But when Bare Jr. enlists his daughter
Isabella for a gentle read of “Daddy What If” or Nanci Griffith melts hearts on
“The Wishing Tree” (two examples from Silverstein’s expansive kid’s catalogue),
they each add an unexpectedly tender touch. 


Still, by and large, the set takes its cue from its elder
statesmen, Kristofferson, Bare Sr. and Ray Price, who maintain a certain
stoicism in their covers of “The Winner,” “The Living Legend” and “Me and Jimmy
Rodgers,” respectively. That may be their ultimate accolade, the fact that
Silverstein’s songs speak for themselves and still resonate with both sturdy
resilience and personal pathos.  In this
case, it provides the substance for one terrific tribute.


and Jimmy Rodgers,” “”This Guitar Is For Sale,”
“Wishing Tree” LEE ZIMMERMAN


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