Tennessee Ernie Ford

Here Comes the Mississippi Showboat

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At the time of its 1962 release, Tennessee Ernie Ford's Here Comes the Mississippi Showboat was a nostalgic effort aimed at an older audience that remembered the days of vaudeville, showboats, barbershop quartets, and Dixieland bands. Above all, the album was a tribute to the Tin Pan Alley songs from the early years of the 20th century, many of which were written by immigrant songsmiths like the Russian L. Wolfe Gilbert ("Waiting for the Robert E. Lee") and were significant sheet music hits ("In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree"). "Mary's a Grand Old Name," one of several venerable piano ballads of forgotten authorship, is performed in the barbershop quartet style with Ford taking solo turns. "Take Your Girlie to the Movies" is one of those turn-of-the-century technology songs celebrating modern inventions. "A Straw Hat and a Cane" and "Soft Shoe Song" invite soft-shoe dancing, and "The Old Piano Roll Blues" champions those rinky-dink antiquities, player pianos. The '50s and early '60s saw what was almost certainly the last hurrah for this music as a mainstream entertainment, with hundreds of "honky tonk piano" and "Roaring Twenties" albums bringing back pleasant memories for listeners who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Even barbershop quartet singing saw a brief revival with major releases by the Mills Brothers and barbershop competition winners. Today, Here Comes the Mississippi Showboat is more historical than nostalgic, but even that value is suspect since many people would certainly dismiss it as inauthentic, as a theme park re-creation of a bygone era. Perhaps this carefully performed and arranged album says the most about Ford's middle-of-the-road orientation toward an older audience, for whom he came to serve as a congenial preserver and promoter of old folk, pop, and country songs and styles.

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