Jack Kerouac Reads On the Road

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind

(Ryko Voices Series)

Copyright © 1999 by David Reitzes

Two renowned poets who helped define the Beat Generation contribute to two new CDs, and the results could hardly be more different. In a collection that could have been titled The Private Recordings of Jack Kerouac, that most legendary and revered hipster reveals numerous facets of his artistry, including some concealed until now.

A half-hour is given to an unaccompanied, recently discovered reading from On the Road, in which the author proves wonderfully adept at capturing the sights and sounds of his most enduring work.

That's only the beginning, however. We also get a previously unheard song called "On the Road," which Kerouac sang a cappella into his tape recorder one lonely night, and which is now beautifully complemented by some plaintive guitar from veteran jazzman Vic Juris. The song is later turned over to Tom Waits, who deconstructs and rebuilds it in a most pleasing fashion.

Two album highlights are lengthy readings of "Orizaba 210 Blues" and the previously unpublished "Washington DC Blues," both with eerily perfect musical backings by longtime Kerouac collaborator David Amram.

On top of all that, there's the premiere of Jack Kerouac, Jazz Singer. That's right -- Kerouac faux-croons and scats his way through slightly loopy versions of four jazz standards. It's bad lounge, frankly, but it's the best bad lounge you'll ever hear, as charm and personality seep through each phrase.

The Ferlinghetti CD seems almost stodgy next to Kerouac, but it's not a fair comparison. Coney Island of the Mind has no hepcat vocalizing or long-lost rarities, just close to an hour of new, often witty recordings of the poet reading from his best-known work, accompanied by an intriguing score from Morphine's Dana Colley, which veers between various signposts on the jazz and rock highways.


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