Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on a Calypso album. I don’t have any sort of a reasonable explanation for it, and the demos so far are not very promising. It’s probably a waste of time, although it has provided a break from my regularly scheduled activity of composing mediocre piano ballads. But I’ve done the homework, including watching insufferable drum instructors (is there any other kind?) demonstrate the Calypso beat online, so I think I ought to have something to show for it.
  Nobody’s singing in an accent, super-promise, but this is more to minimize annoyance than avoid accusations of culture theft. Hey, why is it that everybody gives Sting a hard time for faking a Jamaican accent while the Beatles get a pass for faking an American one?
  Anyway, putting this likely disaster aside, I’m working up a back story. Calypso herself, of course, was a nymph from Greek mythology, who detained Odysseus for five years with her singing and maybe a golden loom-shuttle. After 5 years Odysseus got the hell out of there, but Calypso rebounded to have a successful second career as Jaques Cousteau’s boat and was ruthlessly celebrated by John Denver.
  Whoops, it turns out that the term is etymologically sourced in the West African term “kaiso,” meaning “go on,” not in Greek myth. You can’t get a Cousteau/Denver reference out of that, though, so I’m going to ignore it.
  As I embarked on my post-PBS years, Calypso reentered my life as a lyric in Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” where Calypso singers laugh at Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot as they fight in a captain’s tower. This gave me an image of female singers lounging on a beach, surrounded by bongo drummers and laughing their asses off about The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (and god doesn’t it just deserve it...).
  It showed up musically for the first time a few years back when I picked up the Kingston Trio’s 1959 album “Live at the Hungry I,” which contains the calypso tune “Zombie (or “Jumbee”) Jamboree.” Trio banjoist Dave Guard’s opening monologue credits the song to Lord Invader and his 12 Penetrators, likely referring to a 1953 version by Lord Intruder. Wikipedia credits the song to one Conrad Eugene Mauge, Jr., so it’s a little confusing. In any event, the Trio’s version is stupid, brilliant and hilarious.
  It popped up again last year on one of my daughter’s children’s music CD’s, with the aforementioned Lord Invader (not Intruder) performing “Merrily We Roll Along,” which is like an alternate version of “London Bridge is Falling Down.” I stole the CD (temporarily) and used it to write a song called “The Great Midwestern Calypso,” which Chase Hurlow and I arranged and put on the last Miller-Kelton album.
  It turns out that our arrangement wasn’t actually Calypso, and apparently such swings and misses happen quite a bit. Harry Belafonte’s album “Calypso,” which contains “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” that you remember from the movie “Beetlejuice,” turns out to actually be Jamaican Mento folk music. So there’s that.
  Determined not to screw it up again, I picked up “The Rough Guide to Calypso Gold,” a twenty song compilation. I knew it would be good because there was a flame war in the Amazon comments between hipster purists and people who thought the album let them down at their last cocktail party.
  So it isn’t bongos, beaches and laughing ladies. While the beat is omnipresent, drums, hand or otherwise, are hard to discern in the older recordings (I would assume that this was far different live). There’s a lot of piano instead, more so than steel drum to my ears, with generous helpings of woodwinds, fiddle and even brass.
  But it’s the vocals that matter. As it turns out, most of the singers are male (Calypso Rose being a notable exception). The lyrics really are playful and mocking, offering wry commentary and sometimes just recounting random events like the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. Certainly some politics, Invader’s “Rum and Coca-Cola” about the economic effect of a US naval base being the prime example, but a pretty good chunk of screwing around. It’s intelligent music, and at times downright mean spirited. It’s fun, basically.
  So that’s what I know about it, and what I’m working with. My understanding is certainly shallow, probably dead wrong in places, but I’m going with it. You see, I’m working on a Calypso album, although I’m having a dreadful time writing lyrics for it. If what I’ve recorded so far is any indicator, it’s likely going to be terrible. I doubt I’ll release it -- I’m more of a mediocre piano ballad guy anyway. But I’m doing it anyway, and we’ll see if I learn anything.

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