1000 Years at RISD II
11/4/2003 (updated 8/21/2004)

Individual highlights for me were Bonnie St. Johnstone and Banks of the Nile, the absence of which from the cd I once again mourn as just the greatest loss. I was interested to be told that the tune for Full Fathom Five [from The Tempest] was actually a little fragment of a melody from that period that RT had come across somewhere and worked up his own harmonies to in order to make it an appropriate setting for Shakespeare's haunting words. I don't think it was my imagination that So Ben... was a slightly different [new, improved!] version, with an added verse and updated pronunciation, showing the benefits of recent scholarly emendation. I'd never heard Lonesome Whistle before, so that too was a real treat [RT said he wouldn't even attempt Hank's twang, but his guitar sounded authentically twangy enough to carry the both of them through with flying colors]. The audience, whose enjoyment and enthusiasm were evident throughout, sang along with gusto on Tempted, Oops!, Sam Hall, and It Won't Be Long.

Seeing this show a third time, I was struck once again by how the versatility of RT's guitar playing [honestly, he can make that guitar sound like nearly anything, and in any style] is almost matched, and at times even excelled, by the versatility of his voice. To hear RT sing Trafalgar Square [or Sam Hall] in that reedy, light and nimble baritone is to realize that the music hall stage was deprived of one of its possible greats by a mere 3/4 of a century or so. But he sounds just as convincing on the throaty, deep Shenandoah or the jazzy, smooth Rocking Chair. And though one couldn't ever call his voice breathy, on Cry Me a River he achieved this lovely quality of suspension, a sort of mournful pendulousness of tone, that was very effective for the song's emotion. But the absolute standout of the evening for me was hearing RT on Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirate King -- it was a knockout of a rendition, comical in timing but with perfect control of his voice. If on the cd, RT sounds as if he is doing a credible job mimicking a G&S performer's operatic tones, on Pirate King the other night he sounded like the real thing, with the dynamics of his voice rich and just perfectly modulated. Even RT himself, who normally is so self deprecating, said after the show that he was amazed himself by how well that song came out -- "I don't know where that came from," he noted in genuine surprise.

But clearly RT himself is the Pirate King, at least when it comes to pirating the styles and sounds of popular music. For Halloween this year, he successfully masqueraded as everyone from Orlando Gibbon to George Gross-Smith to Julie London to Britney, and you could barely see his face peeping out from beneath his musical facade. Only his hands, tireless and astonishing as always on those guitar strings, were at all times recognizable. Oh yeah -- plus there's that black beret....