When he first appeared in 1975, Leon Redbone, with his white suits, Panama hat and walking stick, was a sartorial anomaly in an age of jeans and platform shoes. His somewhat mysterious persona (even after nearly 30 years in show business, very little is known about him) has probably worked to his benefit, since most of the songs hes performed over the years were written before World War II. Redbone could easily be dismissed as a colorful eccentric, if not for his formidable fingerstyle guitar playing, his smooth, deep voice, and his utter sincerity when singing tunes that predate him by a generation or two.
Redbones first record for Warner Bros., On the Track (1975), was the template for all his recordings, which makes recommending one title over another somewhat difficult. Yet, its not an overstatement to say theyre all worth owning, including the three reissues covered here. Redbone sifts through American popular musics distant past to revitalize songs we know, such as Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercers "Lazy Bones" (on No Regrets), and lesser-known gems, such as "Reaching for Someone and Not Finding Anyone There" by Walter Donaldson and Leslie Edgar (on Red to Blue). Although he approaches these old songs respectfully, he doesnt treat them as museum pieces. His affection for them, and his conviction that they still matter, ensures that they sound fresh and vital.
Great musicians always get the chance to shine on Redbones recordings, and these recordings contain some sharp playing from Bireli Lagrene, Dr. John, and others. Redbones own songs on No Regrets and Whistling In the Wind show the influence of the many writers and styles hes interpreted over the years.
With an average running time of under 40 minutes, these very enjoyable discs could each have been filled out a bonus track or two, but at $11.98 list theyre affordably priced.
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