(1949 – )
My wife and I share very few musical tastes in popular music. She prefers folk and singer-songwriters; I go for blues and hard rock.* However, there was one musician we agreed about at the start: Leon Redbone.
Redbone didn’t write his material, but instead revived music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, singing it slowly and carefully, and sounding much like the way the songs sounded in their earliest recordings. On the Track included music from greats like Jimmie Rodgers, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercier, and the underappreciated Harry Warren.
He had a deep, rich, world-weary voice that was completely in service to the music, and a nice touch of irony when needed (though he was perfectly able to sing things straight.
Redbone never had a big hit, but continued to release albums through the 70s and 80s. Someone at Saturday Night Live took a liking to him and he appeared there twice, most notably with his sly rendition of “Seduced.”
Redbone was often called upon to lend his talent and voice to other media. He sung a duet with Zooey Deschanel of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at the end of Elf, and showed up as Leon the Snowman in the film.
Like many artists of my youth, I lost track of him over the years, but he continued to perform and record until 2015, when he announced his retirement.
He’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like the old-timey feel and great songs that were a hit before your mother was born, Redbone is a delight.
*We both love musicals, though.
**With art by cartoon great Chuck Jones. Yes, that’s Michigan J. Frog. Redbone paid tribute to the cover by covering “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” on his third album