Billy Bratcher,
In the Lobby
(Cow Island, 2012)

Before you have a chance to think "Leon Redbone," Billy Bratcher brings up the name. As he acknowledges in the liner notes, "Of all recorded artist's [sic] I enjoy, Redbone would influence me the most."

In the Lobby is, no doubt about it, Redbone-esque, which is to say it's mostly old vaudeville and light blues filtered through something of a folk-revival sensibility. The sound consists of acoustic stringed instruments (with Bratcher's guitar up front in the mix), piano and various horns. Ordinarily the bassist for the well-liked honkytonk/rockabilly band Starline Rhythm Boys, he doesn't sing much like Redbone, which is good because that would be pushing the resemblance too far. His is an easy-going, conversational tenor, rather like one you'd hear on just about any old 78 of 1920s pop music.

The 18 cuts are culled from the repertoires of American musical figures from Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmie Rodgers and Irving Berlin to more modern ones like Steve Goodman, Roy Bookbinder and George Gritzbach (whose funny, gritty "The Sweeper & the Debutant" he covers). Mostly, however, it's the old stuff that captures his imagination. That includes, it must be noted, a song or two or three Redbone also recorded. On the other hand, while he's still around, Redbone's profile is pretty low these days. The recordings of his that most of us have in our collections are the ones he cut in the 1970s. In other words, Bratcher isn't exactly competing with Redbone.

All that aside, this is an entertaining, accessible record. The material comprises some of the most appealing examples of another era of popular song, when Tin Pan Alley and the middle-class mass audience shared the belief that songwriting ought to be left to the professionals. The writers kept the songs lighter than air; even the ones bemoaning romantic failure weren't all that heartbreaking. The melodies were infused, if only breezily, with jazz. Always pleasant in the ear, they were suited equally to listening and dancing. So, in its amiable fashion, is In the Lobby.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 February 2013

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