Biff Rose Children Of Light

[Tetragammaton; 1967]

Styles: vaudeville, anti-showtune, piano-driven
Others: Randy Newman, Billy Bragg

It is probably safe to say the mainstream hasn't and will probably never have room for songwriters like Biff Rose. While his songs are catchy and well-composed, his lyrics are bound to offend the straight-laced façade that dominates America's middle class. Fortunately, that's where cult followings come in. With his teeter-totter shift between goofy, dorky falsetto and his rugged, country-tinged voice, Rose accents a romp through the silly side of America's misplaced worries on Children of Light.

Like Randy Newman, Rose has a counter-diatribe for every Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham speech about traditional American values and the wrongs of science. And, of course, he's much funnier. Whimsical clap-alongs like "Color Blind Blues," "Evolution," "American Waltz," and "Ballad of Clichés" accent Rose's skill at societal commentary. He unravels a more poignant attack on the title track, reminding the listener that "the force of deception has uneven rhythms." He casts himself as an outsider with a playful attack on his songwriting brethren with "I'm new at writing protest songs/sometimes I slip and use clichés." The use of a Moog on two of the tracks, one courtesy of Van Dyke Parks, only adds to the bizarre swirling time capsule that Rose pulls from both the folk and circus traditions.

Miraculously though, the record manages to turn the tone on its head with brooding, introspective tracks like "To Baby" and "Son in Moon." Whatever the mood, Rose manages to string together the collection with aggressively adept piano playing that reveals the sensitivity and rapid finger motions that are the result only of classical training.

It is the rare musician that can be honest enough to approach their subject matter through everything from stone faced wit to heart-on-sleeve introspection. Rose's wandering piano numbers had the continuity to bring both together. The result is one of the better albums from a period when everyone seemed to be taking themselves far too seriously, and like all great albums, there is clearly something to be taken for our time as well.

1. Ain't No Great Day
2. Communist Sympathizer
3. Evolution
4. Just Like A Man
5. American Waltz
6. Son In Moon
7. Children Of Light
8. Ballad Of Clichés
9. To Baby
10. Color Blind Blues
11. Space Out/ I've Got You Covered

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