Ghost Train Orchestra & Kronos Quartet
Songs and Symphoniques: The Music of Moondog
A celebration of the music of Moondog has been long, long overdue. Yes, 'Bird's Lament' appeared in some adverts and was sampled by DJ Scruff in the late 90s, but as for an actual tribute, one where you may gasp at the new musical world that you are being introduced to, one where you feel the need to search for the originals, that's not happened. Until now.
The Brooklyn-based Ghost Train Orchestra realised the importance of Louis Hardin, AKA Moondog, and put together a project that would do justice to The Viking of 6th Avenue. Moondog, who died in 1999 was a blind musician best known for dressing in Viking (hence the nickname), costumes, and playing songs on the streets of New York. His frequent presence there made him a tourist attraction but more importantly, he made albums, designed and played his own instruments, and was a major influence on the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass (when he fell upon hard times he did live with Glass).
What the Ghost Train Orchestra have achieved is, by working with the esteemed Kronos Quartet and a cast of great guest vocalists (Rufus Wainwright, Joan As A Policewoman etc), is a record that contains both 'realisations and reimaginings' of Moondog's work. It is a record that celebrates both the complexity and simplicity of his arrangements. From his short canons (the joyous uptempo of 'Be A Hobo' to the austere take on 'All is Loneliness' (previously covered by Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin), and the playful Jazz of 'Bumbo' this album is both an excellent introduction and a reminder to the long term fans of the enduring appeal of Moondog's work.
Of course, as with any decent tribute album, it should create the odd feat of existing on its own terms and as a gateway to the work of the artists they are celebrating. If you feel inclined to investigate any further then the best places to start are 'Moondog' (1969), which focuses more on full orchestral interpretations of his works (with only a small amount of his percussive presence), 'Moondog 2' (1971), which includes more of the madrigals, rounds, and canons, several of which have been adapted on the current album.
'Songs and Symphoniques: The Music of Moondog' is a record that brings the work of the composer to life and that tries to understand what they were trying to create. The breadth of the work that the Ghost Train Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, and friends have interpreted is impressive. It is a labour of love.