Largo – Loosely Based On Symphony Number 9

I’ll admit, I have owned the CD, Largo, for quite a long time, but had forgotten about how much I liked it until this evening when Largo came up via my Album Randomizer. Really, really good, you should give it a spin, presuming you can find a copy. As far as I can tell, Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry for Largo. 

The impetus for the album is artists reacting to Dvorak’s New World Symphony

Dvořák was interested in the Native American music and African-American spirituals he heard in America. Upon his arrival in America, he stated:

“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

The symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, and premiered on December 16, 1893, at Carnegie Hall conducted by Anton Seidl. A day earlier, in an article published in the New York Herald on December 15, 1893, Dvořák further explained how Native American music had been an influence on this symphony: “I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour.” In the same article, Dvořák stated that he regarded the symphony’s second movement as a “sketch or study for a later work, either a cantata or opera … which will be based upon Longfellow’s [The Song of] Hiawatha” (Dvořák never actually wrote such a piece).

He also wrote that the third movement scherzo was “suggested by the scene at the feast in Hiawatha where the Indians dance”. Curiously enough, passages which modern ears perceive as the musical idiom of African-American spirituals may have been intended by Dvořák to evoke a Native American atmosphere. In 1893, a newspaper interview quoted Dvořák as saying “I found that the music of the negroes and of the Indians was practically identical”, and that “the music of the two races bore a remarkable similarity to the music of Scotland”.

Most historians agree that Dvořák is referring to the pentatonic scale, which is typical of each of these musical traditions.

(click here to continue reading Symphony No. 9 (Dvořák) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Allmusic’s Geoff Ginsberg writes:

Largo is everything Americana should be. It is also (easily) one of the most ambitious albums of the digital era. Just their luck: they hit a home run while the entire crowd was out in the beer line. Between major-label mergers and the fact that it just says “Largo” on the cover, this flat-out masterpiece was lost in the shuffle and almost no one heard it.

It is a swirling concept album touching on believable stories seen through the eyes of diverse Americans. Make no mistake, though, this is timeless rock with big hooks, not roots revivalism. Largo was produced by Rick Chertoff and his college roommate Rob Hyman of the Hooters; the two co-wrote nearly the whole album with Hooter Eric Bazilian and singer/songwriter David Foreman.

The A-list talent (several of whom have hit records produced by Chertoff) is almost an embarrassment of riches, but it never sounds like a compilation album; it is focused and unified. “Freedom Ride,” an out of the gates rocker, is sung by Taj Mahal. “Gimme a Stone” is a duet between Levon Helm of the Band and Foreman. It’s a song for all but those who root for Goliath. Cyndi Lauper wails out on “White Man’s Melody,” and Joan Osborne turns in a memorable vocal “An Uncommon Love,” a Carole King co-write that King also sings on. Osborne is also all over “Hand in Mine,” which features a bleary-eyed co-lead from Hyman, whose knack for universal melodies is on full display on the track (and the whole album). Foreman’s voice is deep and resonant, and his performances (as on the down, dirty, and devastating “Disorient Express” and the ballad “Largo’s Dream”) make you wonder where this guy has been all these years.

Willie Nile turns up for the punky “Medallion,” a song about a Pakistani cab driver working to make enough money to bring his family over. These songs are about people you might meet, not some spent myth. The album has several versions of Dvorak’s “Largo” (performed by the likes of the Chieftains and Garth Hudson of the Band) which separate the groups of songs; it was Dvorak’s trip to the New World that inspired Largo. The album has been completely out of print for years, but Roger Daltrey (who performs “Freedom Ride” and “Gimmie a Stone” live) pressured iTunes into providing a digital option.

(click here to continue reading Largo – Largo : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic.)

From a 1998 NYT review by Jon Pareless

The austere, comforting melody of the Largo movement of Antonin Dvorak’s ”New World” Symphony drew on the spirituals and parlor songs that the Czech composer heard during his residency in the United States. A century later, the theme set Rob Hyman, Rick Chertoff and various collaborators thinking about American roots, immigration and cross-cultural encounters; the result is the ambitious album ”Largo” (Blue Gorilla/Mercury). In variations and extrapolations of Dvorak’s tune, the collaborators came up with homey songs about an America where exploitation and promise are inseparable.

Mr. Hyman, Mr. Chertoff and Eric Bazilian have worked together for two decades; they specialize in a kind of rusticated folk-pop, with hymnlike tunes and arrangements that use instruments like mandolin, accordion and churchy organ. …The three have also produced or written songs for Taj Mahal, Cyndi Lauper and Joan Osborne, all of whom sang both on the ‘’Largo’’ album…

David Forman, who collaborated on many of the new songs, Willie Nile and Sissel (a Norwegian singer whose wordless vocals are on the ”Titanic” soundtrack) were also on hand, generally keeping Mr. Hyman’s vocals in the background. Garth Hudson of the Band sat in on keyboards.

”Largo” brought out the best in the longtime collaborators. Mr. Forman’s presence seems to have curbed the Hooters’ old penchant for platitudes. Most of the songs have a Celtic and Appalachian flavor: waltzes and marches that carry tender love songs like ”Hand in Mine” or the jaunty ”Gimme a Stone,” which retells the David and Goliath story with the melody of a reel and a reggae backbeat. In a few songs, Ms. Lauper played the penny whistle; Mr. Bazilian supplied keening, off-tune hooks from a hurdy-gurdy.

Ms. Osborne brought poise and kindliness to love songs, warming lines like ”All the walls we build between us make it so hard to be together.” In a barely rehearsed encore, she turned backup vocals into joyful affirmations. Mr. Mahal and Mr. Forman applied scratchy, weathered voices to songs hinting at tough immigrant experiences: slavery in ”Banjoman,” Chinese railroad labor in ”Disorient Express.” Mr. Nile sang a Pakistani cab driver’s soliloquy in ”Medallion.” Mr. Hudson turned the ”Largo” theme into a free-form hymn on keyboard, then switched to tenor saxophone for a bluesy, confiding version of the melody. And Sissel sang the words to ”Goin’ Home” with a sweet, almost operatic purity, honoring the unlikely source of some worthy new songs.

(click here to continue reading POP REVIEW – POP REVIEW – Long After Dvorak, Perils and Promise of the ‘New World’ – Review –

An unusual and interesting piece of pop and roots music comes from an unlikely collection of musicians. The brain children of Largo are producer/writer Rick Chertoff, Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, both members of the roots-rock band The Hooters and NYC songwriter David Foreman. Sharing an interest in Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” (of which “Largo” is probably the most familiar and hummable melody), the two decided to write an album of pop songs based on the lyrical themes of the work. In addition to their own voices and instruments, they have pulled together an impressive cast of artists to complete the vision; Garth Hudson and Levon Helm (The Band), all of The Chieftains, Taj Mahal, Joan Osborne, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nile and Giovanii Hidalgo.

There is a unique quality to this recording, and while it occasionally gets to be like a wanna-be of The Band (not a bad thing to emulate, I guess), the crisp, direct style pulls it back most of the time. The themes are pretty standard “American Dream” fare, of highways and workers, lovers and sideshows, modern versions of Dvorak’s stories of “the road” to the American west, but they all touch on personal stories and characters.

(click here to continue reading Roots World – Largo.)

Like I said, you’d probably like this album if you gave it a chance…

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