The Terra Verde Corner

American Landscapes
David Thomas Roberts, piano

CD review by Jack Rummel

Pinelands Recordings (no number)

Pinelands Memoir / The Girl Who Moved Away / Back to Marion County / Through the Bottomlands / Muscatine / Kreole / Dixon / The Girl On The Other Side / Franklin Avenue / Fontainebleau Drive / Napoleon Avenue / Madison Heights Girl / Anna / Last Days of The Polo Grounds / Roberto Clemente / For Kansas City.

From the winsome cover photo of the little boy in the baseball stadium to the endorsement on the back by New Age pianist George Winston, this is a professionally designed package aimed at the general public. The good news is that the contents are of equal professional quality. David Thomas Roberts is in as fine a form as I think I've heard, due in no small part to the inspiration of the Boesendorfer Imperial Grand piano upon which these selections were played.

The not-so-good news is that 10 of the 17 cuts on this CD are available on two of Roberts' previous CDs. While these new versions may possibly be superior, this fact may deter many ragtimers who already own these recordings. With that disclaimer, let's examine this outstanding package.

The album opens on an upbeat note with the strident and affirmative Pinelands Memoir, followed closely by the country poignancy of The Girl Who Moved Away. Back to Marion County, one of two previously unrecorded rags, is an undiscovered folk jewel and one wonders what took him so long to record it. A slow, elegant Through the Bottomlands is next, thought by many to be Roberts' finest work.

Three folk rags follow, each bearing the name of an American town. Muscatine flows smoothly, not unlike the river upon which its namesake sits, while Kreole fills its rollicking self with hints of Brun Campbell and Jelly Roll Morton. The slowly swinging Dixon (the only inclusion on this disc not written by Roberts) comes from the pen of Missourian John Hancock and possesses wonderful melodic passages that flesh out the memory of the town where his grandparents were born.

We are then transported to New Orleans via three selections from Roberts' monumental suite for piano, New Orleans Streets. Franklin Avenue opens with a melodramatic statement, then quickly asserts a haunting beauty. A ragtime "nocturne," Fontainebleau Drive, is next, its delicate brevity not unlike that of a Chopin prelude. And finally Napoleon Avenue comes, with its moderate rag-like quality.

Four disparate compositions round out this offering. Anna, the other previously unrecorded rag, is a musical sonnet, affectionately dedicated to a town in Illinois. Last Days of The Polo Grounds, a syncopated waltz, also makes its debut on this album and is an unabashedly romantic tribute to one of the great baseball stadiums of all time. The folk elegy Roberto Clemente will be familiar to many, as it is undoubtedly Roberts' best known work. And the tonality of six sharps gives For Kansas City a hint of optimism to close the album.

Roberts, in his excellent liner notes, refers to himself as "...a 'terrain wrangler,' a commandeer of the land's visionary appeal, a topographical rowdy bent on revelation-through-landscape." These selections only prove his point and underscore the well-chosen title for this album. Absent are much of the Latin-based rhythms that have propelled many of his later works; instead, most of this CD goes back to David Thomas Roberts' roots and we are treated to generous helpings of the folk romanticism that was - and in many ways still is - his distinctive domain. If any recording can serve to introduce his works to the fickle record-buying public, this CD should succeed. A quality package in every respect.

Available for $12.99 plus $2.50 shipping from Pinelands Recordings, 431 28th St., New Orleans, LA 70124-1327. (This is the first CD I've ever seen that has the mail-order price printed right on the jacket - truly mad-to-order for late-night TV pitches!)

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