Neil Hamburger – Sings Country Winners

Tonight’s the night! Every year, my favorite stand-up comedian, “America’s Funnyman” Neil Hamburger, comes to Texas to regail his captive, usually disease-ridden audience with his unique brand of “humor on a budget”, and he’s stopping in Dallas tonight. I figured, since this is a once a year thing and he’s only made one album of music, that I should talk about that today, aren’t you lucky?

Nice to see he's gotten a deck put in on that cardboard box in New Mexico he lives in. Now, Neil has plenty of great comedy CD’s that you can probably buy from his unofficial website (run by some crazy lady who can’t stop talking about her dogs), but this is his first album of actual music, a “personality” album if you will. Like Telly Savalas, Leonard Nimoy, and Bruce Willis before him, Neil has crafted a loving collection of originals and a few classics for the discerning customer who decorate their livingrooms with the finer things in life. Unlike these other artists, however, Neil has taken the extra step and made this not only a quality Country album, but even kept it in the more old-fashioned (and thus better) style, using some really top musicians.

The songs are half-way between being funny and genuinely insightful in that kind of way that only satire can provide, and every single song is meticulous as far as the instrumentation goes. In fact, I kind of regret that the “Too Good For Neil Hamburger Band” incorporating some great names like Prairie Prince (formerly of Jefferson Starship) and Rachel Hayden who performs with Todd Rundgren and also does her own smashing solo music, have not gone out to do their own more “serious” Country music, because this is seriously great stuff.

It starts with “Three Piece Chicken Dinner”, which is a great little ditty about comedians not being paid enough. It becomes immediately apparent that Neil’s gruff, kind of nasally timbre is not so suitable for standard singing, so he kind of sing-talks his way through the whole thing, of course, injecting his personality into every note, so that the listener will not be disappointed. He frequently performs this song live, so hopefully we’ll get to see that tonight!

The second song, “The Recycle Bin”, is a clever song by any standard, comparing things that people should not throw into recycle bins (Styrofoam, potted plants, even sugar-free birthday cakes) to more abstract ideas (a career, a divorce). It’s as much a foul-mouthed berating to the pricks that do this kind of stuff as it is a touching song on the personal failures of a man whose only crime was not hitting it big in the entertainment industry.

“Please Ask That Clown To Stop Crying” features Rachel Hayden on vocals for the chorus, playing the part of a disheartened 7 year old girl. The song is super slow and follows Neil’s narrative about an especially sad clown inadvertently ruining a little girl’s party with his tears. Of course, the song has a twist ending, and things wind up all right in the end, which is more than I can say for most Country songs.

One of the other hits on this album is “Jugtown”, a cover originally written by someone I have forgotten (sorry!) It’s more of a rockin’ song than what has been on the album so far, featuring some great electric guitar work. The song is an interesting ditty about a guy whose father found solace at a place called “Jugtown” where “lots of past is drained from the glass”, and where everything is made better. It’s kind of an interesting view on alcoholism, if you look at it, and it’s interesting to hear such a sympathetic take on the subject.

Then we get an anti-patriotic song, featuring an excellent march cadence, in “How Can I Still Be Patriotic When They’ve Taken Away My Right To Cry?”, winner of the prestigious “longest title to be written on here” award. The song is funny, (come on, how can a song containing puppies being jettisoned out to space by a cold, unfeeling government not be?), but contains enough good points against how this country is run, that I would rank this easily above other attempts to be political by musicians. The line:

They took away my dreams
When they allowed advertising in the night sky

…is a legitimately good line! This whole song is good, I was kind of stunned at this point that I will still enjoying the thing so much, myself, and I’m a huge Neil Hamburger fan!

The next track is “At Least I Was Paid” which is another great track about how comedians don’t get paid very much (except for the ones that aren’t actually any good), but Neil makes a positive message out of a tragic one, saying that “No matter how low your pay, at least you can say, at least I was paid”. He makes some points as well about workers who are much worse off due to being Egyptian slaves or sweatshop children. This song contains some great solos from the band, as well!

“Thinkin’ It Over” is a 3/4 time minor song, apparently written by John Paul Jones, formerly of Led Zeppelin. I could be wrong on this one but I’ll be buggered if I’m going to go over and check. Anyway, the song is about contemplating suicide, and the subtle references to “disappointing all those people” makes me think that there’s a subtle meaning behind this song for Neil. Truly a man of mystery.

Winding down, we then get the snappy “Garden Party II”, which might be a sequel to a song he’s done before? I am not sure, but it’s basically a description, in song, about how his shows usually go. It even contains a reference to his legendary “Cranberry Sauce” joke, which you should be familiar with by now if you’ve seen the man’s shows on DVD such as The World’s Funnyman, which is a great performance and should be purchased for yourself and all your loved ones.

We are then treated to a real blast from the past, the infamously-canceled “Zipper Lips” routine makes a return as “Zipper Lips Rides Again”. Honestly, I don’t have Neil’s earliest albums, so even I can’t really describe this idea to you, so we’ll skip it.

Finally, we come to a stunning number, “The Hula Maiden”. Tucked away as kind of a surprise, this Hawaiian-flavored Country number actually presents some strange and kind of weary emotional moments. There’s a real enigma in the performance of this song, and Neil just may be performing outside of himself for some part of it. It doesn’t have a lot of jokes in it, other than just being what it is, but that’s good enough for me!

Anyway, this is undeniably the best “Personality” album I have ever heard (mind you, I have not yet heard William Shatner’s famous works yet). Not only are the jokes and themes entertaining and familiar to Hamburger fans, but there is an insanely high degree of quality and perfection to the production of the album, almost more than there needs to be. Either way, long after the jokes aren’t that funny anymore, and Neil has moved on to his new set of Michael Jackson jokes (a recent incident has caused him to have to re-write most of them), the music will still be good enough for a listen every now and again. I couldn’t help myself, of course, I had to buy this on CD and the coveted “vinyl” format all the kids are talking about, and if you happen to catch Neil in Texas in the next couple of days or Ireland for the next couple, you should pick up this album, or just order it from this crazy lady. I assure you you’ll get your product. Until then, adieu!

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