Kurt Weill, was a German-born American composer who created a revolutionary kind of opera of sharp social satire in collaboration with the writer Bertolt Brecht. His most famous song is most famous for not being satire but a lavish big band / jazz standard, Mack the Knife.
Prof Dr Aylish E Kerrigan – a mezzo-soprano and practice-based music researcher who is American but lives in Germany – performs the songs in an order that she says makes a good set (or recital as they say, they being people who know you’re a mezzo-soprano and not just the singer).
As such she opens with “Moritat von Mackie Messer” (aka “Street Ballad of Mack the Knife”) from “The Threepenny Opera”. If it was a set you’d drop your best song as the encore not opener so we guess she’s softening up the audience for a collection of mostly less well-known songs drawn from decadent Berlin in the 30s, delivered by a world-weary vocal that is ideally suited for this.
The lyrics for “Mack” are surprisingly hard: “And the shark has teeth / And he wears them in his face” and “A dead man lies on the beach / And a man sneaks around the corner / Who is called Mack the Knife”.
“Berlin im Lich” (“Berlin in the Light”) is next (just Kerridge) and is ok, a good mid-set song followed by “Barbara’s Song”, Barbara sounding as world weary as the music: “Well, one must remain cold and heartless / Well, so much could happen / But the only possible answer is ‘No!” It has the speed up / slow down structure of your cliched cinema song played in a German café, with all the punters singing along.
“Marterl: Heir Ruht die Jungrau” (“Wayside Shrine” is less memorable but “Die Seeräuber-Jenny” (“The Sea Pirate Jenny”) is excellent, a lively and sparky song. Jenny is a chambermaid who works in a hotel and imagines getting her revenge by teaming up with pirates to slaughter the patron: “Gentlemen, today you see me washing glasses / And making beds for everyone … When they ask me who has to die / And then they’ll hear me say, ‘All of them’ / And when the head falls, I’ll say ‘Hopla!’”
“Denn Wie Man Sich Bettet” (“You’ve Made Your Bed”) is fairly obvious in theme.
“Alabama Song”, sung in English, follows the narrator as she leaves her home in search of good whiskey and bad men. “Oh show us the way to the next whiskey bar” is slow, but by “For if we don’t find the next whiskey bar / I tell you we must die” it gets fairly urgent; she really needs a drink. In next verse, her hunt for “a pretty boy” follows the same structure.
“Bilbao Song” sees a drunken customer reminiscing in a bar while “Das Lied von der Harten Nuss” (“Song of the Big Shot”) is a gangster giving a lecture on being tough: “You better be tough / Because putting up with the big shot / Can get really rough”.
“Surabaya Johnny” is sung by a woman who cannot live with her lover but can’t live without him either: “I hate you so, Johnny … Take the pipe out of your mouth, you dog.”
And we’re only 10 tracks in. If this was vinyl, you’d maybe play side one more, although side two’s “September Song” is well-known and worth sticking around for.
This is out on Metier, MEX 77115.