Tuesday, April 15, 2008

From New Orleans to Constantinople on the S.S. Leviathan

This album came out in 1975 but it's new to me- it was released on CD back in 2005, but was still hard to get. I called the Louisiana Music Factory, a great source of all musica Louisianica, but they didn't have it. So I sent George Schmidt an email. He's the singer and bandleader of The New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra, who I met a few months back when I was in New Orleans for work.

He's very friendly fellow, full of stories and even bursts into a song now and then. When I told him they were out of the album, magically a week or so later I get an email from the store saying that they have it in stock. Lovely how things work out. I bought a copy and through the magic of the internet it arrived at my door.

I've spoken about them before, but they are a revival band that plays vintage music from the turn of the 20th century to the 30's. The style of music that gives them their name, "oriental fox-trots," are a style of music from when America was beginning to get interesting in the cultures of the Middle and Far East. Many of the songs are about Middle Eastern maidens such as "Leena from Palesteena," "Rebecca came back from Mecca," and my favorite "Egyptian Ella," about a dancing girl who got too chubby to swing it in the states, so she dances for the sheiks now. It captures an innocent and naive era when foreign lands were full of adventure and romance, and not a bunch of people angry at having bombs dropped on them.
click to read the bit about "traveling round the world"

There are many instrumentals in the genre as well, that would fit in an Indiana Jones type movie when they're sneaking through the treasure room seeking the Three-Eyed Statue of Mongallah or something. NLOFTO (as the orchestra will be called for ease of typing) also does ragtime and other genres from the time, and have a lot of fun with it- their name is also a gag on a real ship's orchestra, and they often pretend in concert that they're playing on that ship. Or a submarine, as in the case of the excellent live album Burning Sands, where they supposedly played for the troops in Iraq by sneaking in with a sub and playing the music for them.

They're probably best known for their next album, Old King Tut, but this old album from '75 showcases a lot of their best. It gives a real feel for what they're like. A newcomer would probably be best off getting Burning Sands or Favorites, which collects from different albums, but you can't go wrong with this. If you think old music is boring, their live tunes with George Schmidt's ribald humor will cure you of that. Maybe you heard "Egyptian Ella" on Carnivàle before HBO canceled that great show; it wasn't their version, but that's kind of music they often play. Perfect for dancin' the cooch.

I've been listening to this one a lot, and from the opener "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None o' this Jelly Roll" to "Poppy Time in Old Japan" and classics like "Rebecca Came Back from Mecca," there's not a dull song on it. If you're looking for something yet new, and definitely different, swing on over to the Lousiana Music Factory and pick it up. You can listen to some of the music there, too.

Unfortunately there's a dearth of their music on the 'net, including youtube. They're playing in Princeton in May, and I'm hoping to sneak down there- I think it's an alumni affair, though.


sarah said...

a Missouri Fox Trotter was the breed of my favorite horse from camp.

The more you know... (insert theme song from PSA)

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