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music review: Boardwalk Empire – Volume 1 (Elektra)

music review: Boardwalk Empire - Volume 1 (Elektra)

Nothing evokes a period more vividly, or instantaneously, than music, and the producers of the HBO Prohibition drama ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ have made canny use of vintage songs, both on-camera and off-, since their series began. Now some of the best selections have been gathered in a delightful CD (also available for download on iTunes) that features my favorite band, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, and a number of supremely talented singers who manage to vocally capture a bygone musical era.

Several of Giordano’s instrumentals are low-down blues as they might have been played in the earliest days of the Prohibition era, including “Livery Stable Blues” and “Mournin’ Blues.” The band gets peppier as they back up Stephen Derosa (channeling Eddie Cantor) on “The Dumber They Come The Better I Like ‘Em” and George M. Cohan’s “Life is a Funny Proposition After All,” Regina Spektor singing “My Man,” Catherine Russell (invoking Bessie Smith) warbling “Crazy Blues,” Kathy Brier doing her best Sophie Tucker on “Some of These Days” and “Don’t Put a Tax on the Beautiful Girls,” Nellie McKay on “Wild Romantic Blues,” and Martha Wainwright singing “All By Myself.” Loudon Wainwright III changes the pace with the plaintive Irish “Carrickfergus,” and Leon Redbone brings his low-key charm to “The Sheik of Araby.”

When Vince and the Nighthawks play “Japanese Sandman,” you’d swear you were listening to a modern-day recording by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, who made that tune a sensation (and put themselves on the map) back in 1920. Yet Giordano’s recreations never sound pat or lifeless: his musicians infuse each performance with vitality and meaning.

‘Boardwalk Empire‘ creator and executive producer Terence Winter contributes liner notes that reveal his passion for this music and his understanding of what it contributes to his show. I love this compilation and can’t wait for Volume 2.

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