Irving Burgie

The Father of Modern Calypso

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It probably isn't accurate to call Irving Burgie "the father of modern calypso" as the title of this CD proclaims (Burgie's music is calypso the way that Porgy & Bess is blues -- suggesting the form more than being it), but his deceptively simple, breezy and impossibly infectious faux folk tunes have certainly defined the public's perception of both calypso and the Caribbean for the past fifty years, so much so that songs like "Day-O," "Wheel and Turn," "Go Down Emmanuel Road," "Angelina," and "Kingston Market" have actually traveled a reverse path from the world of pop to become traditional mento standards in Barbados, Jamaica and elsewhere. All of this is even more amazing given that Burgie was born and raised in Brooklyn (albeit a West Indies section), and although his songs sound simple, even effortless, he was JuIlliard trained, and these songs are actually carefully crafted, with subtle internal rhymes and perfectly placed release points. Burgie first tasted success when Harry Belafonte recorded eight of his tunes for 1956's Calypso, a phenomenally successful album (the first album to ever sell a million copies in the U.S., with some 11 million sold internationally) driven in no small part by "Day-O," one of the most recognizable melodies in modern music. Belafonte went on to record some 35 of Burgie's songs, and other artists like the Tarriers, the Kingston Trio, Jimmy Buffett, Miriam Makeba and Tom Rush have also had success with Burgie compositions. For a man in his mid-seventies, Burgie handles things pretty well on The Father of Modern Calypso. Included here are versions of the gorgeous "Jamaica Farewell," "Angelina" (arguably the best song ever written about a concertina), the timeless "Wheel and Turn," the impossibly beautiful "River Come Down," and, of course, "Day-O." Burgie may not provide the definitive version of any of these, but there is undeniable charm in hearing his affable, warm voice tackle these famous songs. The instrumentation is energetic and bright (if a little bit obvious at times), and the backing singers occasionally sound like they are auditioning for an off-Broadway musical, but Burgie's wink-and-a-grin singing coupled with these unstoppable songs keeps the overall presentation upbeat and fun, making The Father of Modern Calypso a wonderful slice of West Indies folk-pop. Here's hoping that Burgie records a follow-up in relatively short order.

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