Nelson Eddy

The Old Refrain

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All hail Nelson Eddy, a gifted and slightly wooden fellow who was almost certainly the inspiration for the voice of Dudley Do-Right. The main reason for obtaining a copy of this disc is to have Eddy's incredibly fine and brilliantly hilarious rendition of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance on hand at all times for instant gratification. This recording, which dates from November of 1940, arguably represents the singer's greatest gift to posterity. While other vocalists tend to deliver this patter song too quickly, Eddy rattles off its clever lyrics in wonderfully clipped syllables. Perhaps he was the only skilled person uptight enough to present "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" with all of the ridiculous tenacity that it requires. "When a Felon's Not Engaged in His Employment/When the Foeman Bares His Steel," the other selection from Penzance, is slightly jarring as Eddy resorts to an almost too-deliberately contrived cockney dialect. He takes the issue of ethnicity to bizarre extremes when interpreting melodies by Stephen Foster. "Shortnin' Bread" and especially "De Camptown Races" receive almost surreal interpretations, with Eddy employing an impossibly extreme vibrato while chortling "doo-dah!" and background vocalists generating weird buzzing noises that defy human logic. The sentimental numbers are soothing, pleasant, milky, and sweet. The choicest "serious" performances are "Russian Easter Hymn" and "Song of the Volga Boatmen," both beautifully rendered with an emotional intensity that proves Nelson Eddy was a gifted operatic baritone capable of singing with cathartic passion. In some ways he sounds most convincing when singing in Russian. The only serious omission, which could easily have fit on this disc, is this artist's over-the-top V-Disc recording of "Stouthearted Men." Even in the face of this glaring deficiency, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" is a priceless masterpiece worth more than the cost of the entire album.

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