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Tuesday, 2003 May 6 : Volume 6, Number 9 Latest⇒

What We Got Here


American Spirit

There aren't many record albums that I like to turn up real loud. Among those are Boston's Don't Look Back, Van Halen's 1984, and a lot of songs by "Weird Al" Yankovic. (Hey, I've eclectic tastes.) To this list, I'm adding a new album: American Spirit, by Mannheim Steamroller and C.W. McCall. I'm not playing it loud because it's music to rock by; I'm playing it loud because it's so darned good.

Now I must declare that I am biased. Really biased. I like Mannheim Steamroller. I like C.W. McCall. Heck, I've met both Chip Davis, the leader of Mannheim Steamroller, and Bill Fries, the real C.W. McCall. I get e-mail from Bill, and an occasional telephone call. And, most obviously, I run a web site that's probably the most widely-known source of information about C.W. McCall. Yeah, I'm that biased. You've been warned.

American Spirit CD. American Spirit is the first collaboration between Mannheim Steamroller and C.W. McCall; although, to be precise, it's actually the latest. A fact that is unknown to many people: the musicians of Mannheim Steamroller have performed the music for almost every song that has ever been recorded by C.W. McCall. Yes, when you listen to Wolf Creek Pass, or Wilderness, you're hearing classically-trained musicians playing country music. American Spirit continues this association, with the first new recordings from C.W. McCall since the 1990 release of The Real McCall: An American Storyteller.

I'll start from the front cover, and work my way in. And get your Stars and Stripes ready, because by the end of this album you'll want to wave 'em around.

The cover art (which is also the front of the booklet inside) is "Good Morning America" by Terry Redlin. The back of the booklet, the tray insert, and the back of the CD case show larger details from the painting.

Leading off the album is a Steamrollerized (if that's not a word, it ought to be) cover of Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangled Banner", a song which you may have heard at sporting events. You'll be forgiven if, when you hear the opening fanfare, you're thinking, "Is this the main title from Superman: The Movie?" There is no singing in this "Banner", but you're welcome to hum along.

Following "Star Spangled Banner" is the title track, "American Spirit", a spoken-word piece by C.W. McCall. He doesn't sing on this track, but his words are still powerful. Fans of C.W. will inevitably compare this work to "Old Glory", the final track from C.W.'s fifth album, Roses For Mama. Both are unashamed declarations of patriotism, the good kind. This cut ends with Bill and "The Children of American Gramaphone" reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If "American Spirit" were a political advertisement, it would probably be the best one ever made.

Third up is "American the Beautiful", sung by the Chicago Symphony Chorus. This song seems awfully familiar to me; that's probably because I was at St. Michael's Church in Chicago's Old Town on the night that it was recorded. I was sitting near the back of the church, restraining an impulse to cough, and listening to a damned fine group of singers. The microphones have captured this one perfectly. Play it loud, for the best effect.

The fourth track ought to be familiar to everyone who's reading this review: it's "Convoy", the best trucker song ever recorded (sorry, Red), and best recording ever of "Convoy". This version beats the one on The Real McCall: An American Storyteller, and that version was great. The Duck rides again!

[A minor observation: although the lyrics of "Convoy" are still basically the same, there are several minor differences. But the Duck still crashes the tollgates at 98 and wins the day for the truckers.]

Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" is fifth on the album. This selection was performed by brass and percussion from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, at the same recording session at St. Michael's church. When you're listening to this one, close your eyes and soar with the trumpets.

"Yellowstone Morning", track six, is a new composition by Chip Davis. Birds a-chirpin', it's an early summer morning in the wilderness. Don't mind the woodpecker; he's working on a tree, not your house. If this album were a movie, this would be the "travelling across the country" montage music.

The next track, "Heritage", is also a new composition by Chip Davis. "Heritage" could be a modern sequel to "Fanfare for the Common Man", and a companion to Ferde Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite". This is music for a western that hasn't yet been filmed.

Track eight is the second best-known song from C.W. McCall, "Wolf Creek Pass", a harrowing tale of two men, a truck, four hundred and two chickens, and brakes that won't. Twenty-nine years after it was first released, "Wolf Creek Pass" is still just as exciting, and still travelling at twenty-two thousand telephone poles an hour.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus returns for track nine, "Home on the Range". This song usually sounds corny to me when Mitch Miller performs it, but the Chicago Symphony Chorus turns it from a throwaway sing-along into a remembrance of a time and place that many people wish that they were.

"Mt. McKinley" is the third new Chip Davis composition on American Spirit. In the "Western That Hasn't Been Filmed Yet", I'd make this the end title music. It begins as a fanfare, then segues into a staccato "busy worker" theme, sort of like what you hear in old movies about New York City.

Number Eleven is the fifth movement from Ferde Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite", "Cloudburst". The "Grand Canyon Suite" is a symphony of the Old West, and this movement chronicles the progress of a rainstorm in the Canyon. If you've never heard the entire "Suite", you can find an excellent recording of it on a Leonard Bernstein album, Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue/An American In Paris/Grofé: Grand Canyon Suite.

Twelfth on American Spirit is "Tin Type", another spoken-word piece by C.W. McCall. In this cut, C.W. speaks of the greatest threat that the United States of America ever faced: The Civil War, or as some call it, The War Between The States. You won't feel proud after hearing "Tin Type"; you'll feel sad for the lives lost when too-proud people disagreed over government policies.

Finishing the album is "Battle Hymn of the Republic", probably the most patriotic anthem to come out of the aforementioned war. Julia Ward Howe wrote this song after a visit to a Union Army camp in 1861. The Chicago Symphony Chorus sings the lyrics.

Feeling proud yet? If this album doesn't make you feel like an American, then you must be French. :)

That's all, folks. American Spirit, top to bottom. This album is scheduled to be released on May 20, but Amazon.com is taking preorders.


Meanwhile, Back At The Critter Ranch

Mondegreen Of The Week

Regarding the "Gallopin' Goose" question of "declared" or "acquired", Alex Burr writes:

To settle the debate: I have listened to this song at least a dozen times. The words definitely are

He "declared" a busted driveshaft

I think the word "declared" was used in the context that he sent a telegraph message "declaring" he was in a world of deep doo doo, thus declared would be, and is, correct.

Shall we quit nitpicking this great music to death and just sit back and enjoy it?

Okay, Alex, you have your wish. No mondegreens for a few months. Everyone else, take break and listen to the new American Spirit CD.


Old Home Café: The Next Generation

Episode XVI

Jon clicked on the "Eject iPod" button in iTunes. Then he plugged in his headphones, slipped the tiny music player into his shirt pocket, and kicked back. For at least the next hour, Larry could handle the Café. Jon was going to listen to some new C.W. McCall.


Song A’ Th’ Week

American Spirit
(Bill Fries, Chip Davis)
From the album American Spirit

I figure that some of you just can't wait to hear the new album, but for the next two weeks you'll need to content yourselves with reading about it. Here's the title track, with words by Bill Fries and music by Chip Davis. No, you can't sing it; but you're welcome to try.

How 'bout them fireworks?
Pretty cool huh?
Ever wonder why we shoot them off on the Fourth?
It's because we are celebrating our freedom.
It's because we are Americans.
And it's our birthday!

The first three words of the Constitution
We the People…
We the people our celebratin'
Our Independence

We are The Declaration of Independence
and The Star Spangled Banner up there in the sky.
We are the Rocket's Red Glare, the Bombs Bursting in Air.
We are The Fourth of July!

We are The Pledge of Allegiance we say to our Flag
the Stars and Stripes Forever!
We are the Republic for which it stands
The United States of America.
Remember?

We are that One Nation, under God,
Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All
and because we all live in the Land of the Free we
don't have to say it at all unless we want to.

You wanta be counted?
Then stand up and shout it!
Make sure the whole world gets to hear it!
You wanta talk about Freedom?
We know all about it!
We are the American Spirit!

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


The Legend-News is published fortnightly — unless the fortnight is the fifth Monday, in which case it's published fortnightly-and-a-half — by TechRen Enterprises, which can never remember if it should walk away from the light, or towards it. Contents Copyright 2003 TechRen Enterprises, except for anything that we borrowed from someone else. Thanks to Bill Fries and Chip Davis for the words and music. "And how am I going to run it from, say, Pakistan?"