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The Best of Shel Silverstein - His Words His Songs His Friends

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Album Review

Shel Silverstein is a hard guy to pin down, which is part of not only his charm, but his genius. He's best known as a children's author, but also was a Playboy cartoonist who couldn't resist a dirty joke. He penned novelty songs, but also could write songs as heart-wrenching as "Silvia's Mother" and "Once More With Feeling." He was also a terrific songwriter who was a bit of an acquired taste as a performer, chiefly due to his hammy delivery. This also meant that his best songs were often best recorded by other artists (he didn't even cut some of his best tunes). All of this means that he's a rather difficult artist to compile, and there has been a significant lack of comps in his catalog prior to Columbia/Legacy's valiant 2005 effort, The Best of Shel Silverstein: His Words His Songs His Friends. This single-disc, 25-track comp is as unwieldy as its title, encompassing a little bit of everything that Silverstein did, from whimsical poems to smutty jokes, funky country to precious folk and silly pop. It has some spoken word tracks, some of his own recordings, and a bunch of cuts by other musicians who not only specialized in covering his songs, but were close friends as well. While this sure does present a nice cross section of his career and gives a good idea of what Silverstein did, it doesn't necessarily make for smooth sailing as a listening experience. As the disc winds between spoken excerpts from A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends and songs by Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, the Irish Rovers, and Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, the album never quite gains momentum. It lurches and lumbers, partially because Silverstein's overheated vocals wind up sounding grating about halfway through the disc. Nevertheless, this is still the recommended place to get acquainted with his work, because the songs by other artists are uniformly wonderful, and their loose, funny performances — such as the Irish Rovers' "The Unicorn," Bobby Bare's "Marie Lavaux," Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue," Waylon and Willie's "A Couple More Years," and any of the four Dr. Hook songs here, including "Cover of the Rolling Stone" — are the best ways to appreciate Silverstein's genius as a writer. They'll whet your appetite for other Silverstein recordings, so after you've heard this, get Bobby Bare's Lullabys, Legends and Lies or Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show's I Got Stoned and I Missed It, which is devoted to nothing but Silverstein songs they recorded, or seek out such great Silverstein songs as "25 Minutes to Go" (recorded by Johnny Cash), "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" (Marianne Faithfull), "One's on the Way" (Loretta Lynn), "Mermaid" (Glenn Yarbrough), "Put Another Log on the Fire (Male Chauvinist National Anthem)" (Tompall Glaser), and "Once More With Feeling" (Jerry Lee Lewis) — all great songs, and all not here. This collection will make you want to hear these songs, even if won't necessarily inspire you to check out other Silverstein albums.


Born: September 25, 1930 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Shel Silverstein was one of those rare "multi-threat" artists -- composer, singer, cartoonist, illustrator, author -- with popular successes in all of those areas. Born in Chicago in 1930, Sheldon Alan Silverstein first attracted notice during his army service, in Japan and Korea, when he became a cartoonist for the U.S. Army publication Stars & Stripes. After returning to civilian life, he made a part of his living selling hot dogs at Chicago's two ballparks, and, according to a 1961 publisher's...
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The Best of Shel Silverstein - His Words His Songs His Friends, Shel Silverstein
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