If 20 years ago if you’d told me one day I would own and quite enjoy listening to an album by Theodore Bikel there is no way in heck I would have believed you. Not that I would have known much about him back then, but having already spent plenty of time in record shops I would have flipped past records of his with titles like Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs or Yiddish Theatre and Folk Songs and that would have told me enough. I’d never given one of his LPs a second glance until spotting this monocrhomatic-clad album recently.
Before noticing his name I thought it might be a long lost folk classic that had somehow slipped through the millions of nets held by all the crate diggers out there. Alas, it wasn’t. But my interest piqued by the moody cover, I turned it over to peruse the track listing:
Obviously I was going to buy it at that point, what with those covers of songs by Donovan, The Stones, The Beatles, Paul Williams etc. After a couple of hours in the shop I’d only unearthed this one cheapo, and when I went up to pay I distinctly remember the young girl working there giving me a look as if to say ‘You looked through every record in the store and that’s all you’re buying? Lame.’ I comforted myself with the knowledge that she couldn’t possibly own a complete set of the seven original purple Def Jam 12″ singles or an EX copy of the Garden Of My Mind 45 by The Mickey Finn, and went on my merry way.
Later that day I gave my latest purchase a spin. With 10 of the 11 songs having been written by extremely heavy hitters, my ears were rather surprised to discover their favorite track on the album was the only one co-written by Mr Bikel. But there it was, at the end of side 2: I Hear The Laughter . It’s the only song on the album the singer sounds at home in and the arrangement is great – from the melancholy acoustic guitar intro, through the strings and brass parts that build to an atmospheric crescendo. Who knows, if A New Day had been all originals instead of covers that fit like a bad suit, perhaps it would now be cherished as one of those forays into psychedelia by squares that actually worked. Like Del Shannon’s The Further Adventures of Charles Westover or The Four Seasons’ The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. It’s certainly got the right artwork.
And special mention has to be given to the moog-driven version of George Harrison’s Piggies, one of the more unlikely Beatles’ songs the folk singer could have chosen to cover. Check it out in all it’s uncomfortable glory.