Getting ready for David Byrne’s upcoming new release and tour, I dug this gem up. I actually got to see this performed live at Carnegie Hall about 10 years ago, and what a treat that was.
Originally this was part of the musical score to an opera by Robert Wilson called the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down, to my knowledge was never performed live. It had been meant to be part of the Olympics in the early 1980s, but never came to be. Phillip Glass also contributed music to the opera (not a part of this David Byrne album though).
That all said, Byrne set about to do what he does best: Narrating Americana to music. The album features Byrne backed by a Brass Band, who Byrne even says on the liner notes was inspired by the The Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans. Byrne’s talent is that he can take the avant garde and turn it into something commercially enjoyable by people who ordinarily might be turned off by that sort of thing. This album is evidence of that, I think.
The original vinyl was released on ECM records in 1985, but Nonesuch did a beautiful job re-issuing it on CD/DVD back in 2007, and there’s a great website archiving the project.