Friday, March 18, 2016

The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife



As a thoroughly Kurt Weill-illiterate kid back in 1985, I was somehow smart, or lucky, enough to pick up Lost in the StarsHal Willner's salute to the great German modernist. As far as I can tell, Willner—a record producer who had already built similar projects around Thelonius Monk, Nino Rota, and Charles Mingus—sort of invented the all-star tribute album. We can debate whether he did us a favor here: although there have been some nice surprises in this mini-genre, it has mostly resulted in vanity projects with a vaguely public-access telethon quality. Thirty years after its release, however, Lost in the Stars is a rich and enduring work. The casting is inspired; a weird new sound is achieved. The rock and pop performers don't trivialize this music, and the many jazz and classical players are not there to "elevate" anything. Everyone simply gets down to business and creates a cohesive, irreplaceable work. In the twenty-first century, we might take this sort of eclecticism for granted; in 1985, this was borderline visionary.

Willner revisited the material in the 1990s, in a Canadian television special called September Songs, which also spawned an album. I don't like it nearly as much as Lost in the Stars. It's always disorienting to hear a take on a song one has come to love in another version, but in the cases of many of these songs I honestly feel they just aren't as good as those from the earlier project. PJ Harvey just might be the greatest rock artist of the past twenty years, and her "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" on September Songs is a good one, but of all the versions of this song I've heard, none comes close to Lost in the Stars' great rendition by Marianne Faithfull and Chris Spedding.

Weill wrote this World War II-era protest song with his old partner Bertolt Brecht. Spedding's arrangement—a piece of cabaret with a sultry rock layer—is constantly shifting and dense with detail but never too cerebral, never ornate. He doesn't overthink it. And Faithfull, who knows the ropes of Old World folk music, was born to sing this piece. For me, no other version will do. And so, naturally, I had to tab the thing.

The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife
(Brecht/Weill)

G              Bm            G           Bm
What was sent to the soldier's wife
G             Bm      G         Bm
From the ancient city of Prague?
G          Bm                  F#    G
From Prague came a pair of high-heeled shoes,
            D                               A
With a kiss or two came the high-heeled shoes
                F#                   Bm
From the ancient city of Prague.

G              Bm            G           Bm
What was sent to the soldier's wife
G        Bm   G         Bm
From Oslo over the sound?
G        Bm       F#            G
From Oslo he sent her a collar of fur,
            D                               A
How it pleases her, the little collar of fur
           F#                 Bm
From Oslo over the sound.

G                                              D
What was sent to the soldier's wife
                G                         D
From the wealth of Amsterdam?
          E7                     F#
From Amsterdam, he got her a hat,
                   G
She looked sweet in that,
           D
In her little Dutch hat
                F#                       Bm
From the wealth of Amsterdam.

G              Bm            G           Bm
What was sent to the soldier's wife
G        Bm   G         Bm
From Brussels in Belgian land?
G        Bm       F#            G
From Brussels he sent her the laces so rare
            D                               A
To have and to wear, all those laces so rare
                F#                   Bm
From Brussels in Belgian land.

G              Bm           G            Bm
What was sent to the soldier's wife
G       Bm    G         Bm
From Paris, city of light?
G      Bm         F#            G
From Paris he sent her a silken gown,
          D                             A
It was ended in town, that silken gown,
         F#                  Bm
From Paris, city of light.

G                                             D
What was sent to the soldier's wife
G                                          D
From the south, from Bucharest?
          E7                 F#
From Bucharest he got her this shirt
       G                                       D
Embroidered and pert, that Rumanian shirt
                F#                         Bm
From the south, from Bucharest.

Bm
What was sent to the soldier's wife
Bm
From the far-off Russian land?
Bm                         Ab              Am
From Russia there came just a widow's veil
            D                               A
For her dead to bewail in her widow's veil
                F#                   Bm
From the far-off Russian land,
                F#                   Bm
From the far-off Russian land.

No comments:

Post a Comment