20 Centuries of Hits

The "Ancient" Greeks whose barely-B.C. bonus track kicks off 20 Centuries of Hits sound like they might know their number's almost up. But gamely they twang their groovy pre-Miles/surf/Byrds modals for Apollo in shades, while singing in somehow appropriate Spanish accents. Especially this one girl who keeps almost inventing the Ventures' version of "The Lonely Bull," while occasionally trilling a few notes right up through the roof of your heart. It's the sweetest thing I've ever heard called a "drinking song," and she might be just tuning up.

And now! Fast-forward past century-blocks of soulfully stuck-in-groove Sisyphean monks, straight through Renaissance Hollywood and Liège-Hangover "Greensleeves," pausing to make a pass at Stepfordish 17th-century "Barbara Allen." Pete Seeger, still hip in the 18th, guides "St. James" away from melodrama. A guy sings and thinks about a guy singing and thinking about seeing a guy dead; he calls up his own stylish funeral cos he knows he done wrong ("Tell 'em to bring some of them, swe-ee-t smellin' roses, so they won't smell me, as we go riding along . . .").

My kind of rehearsal: Death's stuck in a box, to be tapped and plucked (but not too hard). A box on which Pittsburgh's black-lung Stephen Foster painted "Old Folks at Home" in mythological sunshine, bequeathing it to Paul Robeson in lieu of a confiscated passport. A box blown wide open, transfigured by Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace."

An intensely "Stardust"ed Bing Crosby roams off, realizing Home's in his Heart. So of course the "Louie Lou-I" guy drives his hoopty right through the screen, "We nevah deevine how ah make it home." It's all good, all one (!) disc of it— even those monks sometimes sound like they'd be singing on the street corner, if not for the Plague, the Huns, and the Vows, I guess.

 
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