Originally issued on the Electric Lemon label in 1973, Circus Clown Calliope! and its sequel, Circus Clown Calliope! Vol. 2, have fascinated record collectors ever since mainly because of the somewhat frightening cover art, reminiscent of the hellishly degraded, greasepaint-caked community depicted in Bobcat Goldthwait's 1992 motion picture, Shakes the Clown. Indeed, the clown with a rhinestone pasted to the end of his false nose looks like he's ready to bite and possibly devour any child placed in front of him, while the sad, bedraggled clown who posed for the cover of Vol. 2 emanates clinical depression and dipsomania. Happily, the vintage Tangley calliope heard throughout this compilation was operated by none other than Verne Langdon, an apparently well-adjusted individual whose knowledge of classic circus entertainment is magnificently displayed over no less than 31 tracks. Naturally, some of the material evokes the splendor of classic vaudeville and old-time jazz music. Composed by Jack Newton, "Oriental Blues" was used as a theme song by the great Ernie Kovacs. The general feeling of the piece is so suggestive of the musical landscape of the early '20s that even seasoned traditional jazz heads could easily mistake it for something originally recorded by King Oliver, Johnny Dodds, Bix Beiderbecke, or the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Other selections drawing upon the early jazz and pre-jazz repertoire are "Glow Worm," "Aba Daba Honeymoon," "The Whistler and His Dog," "Twelfth Street Rag," and "Lassus Trombone." Several of the tracks barely exceed one minute's duration -- Langdon quits "Vaudeville Playoff" after 23 seconds and "Billboard March" at a little more than half a minute. "The Silly Sorcerer" and "Circus Clown Calliope Suite," on the other hand, are epic works that sprawl out for nearly six minutes. While convention would relegate it to the realm of juvenile entertainment, this almost surreal core sample of old-fashioned melodies played on a pneumatic riverboat-era calliope may also be introduced whenever and wherever adults try to take themselves too seriously.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf