Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ruby Baby


Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" is a modern musical masterpiece. It is a quintessential concept album, never wavering from the theme of a teen-aged boy's (and a maladroit jazz geek at that!) fantasies circa 1960. Part autobiographical, the album captures the essence of the late 50's early 60's mixture of cold war paranoia ("New Frontier") and the hope for a better future through science ("I.G.Y".) Also included is an ironic love story set in the last days of Batista's Cuba ("The Goodbye Look") and a portrait of a lonely and sensitive jazz DJ("The Nightfly") who spends the night shift spinning bop records, smoking Chesterfield Kings and waiting for the phone to ring.

The record is perfect from beginning to end, from lyric to melody, and from meticulous yet soulful musicianship to sonic and tonal quality.

To call "Ruby Baby" a remake does a disservice to the work: the original is a piece of coal and Fagen’s take is a finely cut diamond. [I count Dion's version as the original as he had a minor hit with it, but there are some other sides floating around from the era and I don't know which one came first.] Penned by the seminal songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller , in the hands of Dion it is a forgettable piece of fluff, catchy but unremarkable. Not so under the deft direction of Donald Fagen and producer Gary Katz. Donald heard a sublime jazz arrangement with a score of subtle chord changes hidden between the cracks of this standard 1-4-5 progression, and he made it sound simple and organic. This is one cool record, and I mean cool in the original jazz context. I never tire of it.

Click here to listen to Donald Fagen’s brilliant interpretation (or re-engineering) of “Ruby Baby.”

2 Comments:

Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Swear to god this is ALWAYS at the top of my list of cds to pick up and I always forget when I'm in th' store.

This record was my piano teacher when I was 18. Fagen is a master at creating complex, ascerbic piano chords with a triad and an oddly-place root. I've never heard him use this stunt to such compelling effect as he does on "The Goodbye Look".

The intro to "Maxine" is, always has been, and always will be my soundcheck piece.

Dammit I hope I remember "Nightfly" next time I'm at Play It Again. Where the good used stuff is.

Rich, plush, amazing, brilliant. This record has a LOT of faith in you. My faves- "Green Dolphin Street", "Maxine", "Ruby" and "Goodbye Look".

Guy'd be FUCKED if he tried to bring this to th' market now.

Good call, man.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

I own this and should know it better than I do, though I like it. Time to add it to the iPod.

Mel Torme (my fave singer) greatly admired Fagen and covered both "The Good Bye Look" and "Walk Between Raindrops" very credibly.

2:26 PM  

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