A Transparent Mask
There are always a few really great speaking voices in any age — Billy Graham, Paul Harvey, James Earl Jones — all they need do is speak, and they have your undivided attention, whatever the message. The king of the speakers today is Ken Nordine, announcer and poet, a man with the tobacco-infused voice of you favorite uncle telling a hunting story on a cold winter’s night. Nordine’s friendly and husky tones have sold countless products, from Fuller Paint to Slugeta Snail Bait, over the past 50 years. On the side, he’s put together over a dozen Word Jazz disks — free-form poems and stream of consciousness thoughts accompanied by a jazzy and disassociated back up sounds. The words aren’t really all that important; it’s the tone and modulating that grab your ear. Whether there you sit down with a beaker of scotch to take notes or slide this into the background for an intimate evening, just the sound of his voice comforts, and the musical filling glosses over the irregular rhyming.
But what’s embedded in those dulcet words? Observations and ruminations of the product development cycle that brought us the feather (“For The Birds”), the sounds of a distant friend calling at 3 AM, stone cold sober, to philosophize about the universe (“Truth Mute”), or a nonsense political discussion of a mythical rulers of a not soon to be formed state (“Akond Of Swat”). There’s a love poem (“You Don’t Love Me Blues”), a career plan (“The Bullfighter”) and a better way to find sleep than enumerating sheep (“Cliché Heaven”). But none of the words are really that critical — Nordine could read the yellow pages backwards and sound good. His clever lyricism just adds to the luster to the voice.
The music? Well, Howard Levy plays keys and most any other random musical instrument at hand, Kristan Vaughan strums the guitar and synth, Eric Hochberg toots a trumpet, and both Paul Wertico and Jim Hines take turns on drums. Stripped of the vocals, the sound has a “late night ain’t gotta be home ’til Tuesday” groove. I’m not a big Jazzbo, but it’s the sort of stuff you can drink to indefinitely if the sounds are at the right level. Nordine is a gem, the sort of person you might emulate if you’re thinking of doing an open mic night and you inner angst still isn’t ready for past prime time.