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Album Review: Song of Myself
Tobin Mueller
Cover image of the album Song of Myself by Tobin Mueller
Song of Myself
Tobin Mueller
2012 / Tobin Mueller
60 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Song of Myself is a vocal and piano collection (mostly) of eleven of Tobin Mueller’s favorite cover songs plus an original bonus track. These are songs that Mueller would like to be able to play at his own funeral. Although this concept sounds a little grim, the title comes from a work by Walt Whitman and refers to the fact that Whitman wrote about his own death for many years before it actually occurred.

With the release of last year’s September 11 Project, Mueller told of volunteering at Ground Zero in any way he could during those dark days and also mentioned that inhaling the toxic smoke that was in the air at the time had caused him severe lung damage and chronic breathing problems. He was unable to sing for a year, but when his condition improved somewhat, Mueller decided to record his arrangements of these songs - just him and his piano, playing for himself. He chose songs that he felt were fitting to his “new” voice, which is not as strong or controlled as it was before. Singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen have proven time and again that although their voices may not be the most “melodic,” the character and emotion that they bring to their songs more than compensate for any lack of range. Mueller brings a similar quality to the ten songs he sings on this album. The eleventh track is a soprano sax and piano duet of “No Place Like Home,” a fantasy inspired by Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.” The bonus track is a previously unreleased version of “Before There Were Gods,” which incorporates guitar work by the late Michael Hedges with Mueller’s healthier vocals, recorded in 2004.

Song of Myself begins with “The Impossible Dream,” one of several songs made even more poignant by Mueller’s cough. I’m not sure I’ve heard a more heartfelt version of this song. Bob Dylan’s “Dignity” is my favorite track. Given a blues/gospel treatment, the piano accompaniment rocks and Mueller’s rough voice suits the song perfectly. Love this one! Paul Simon’s “American Tune” rings as true now as it did almost forty years ago. Mueller’s simple piano accompaniment keeps the focus on the lyrics and their emotional impact. “Blue Tattoos” is a combination of parts of five of Joni Mitchell’s songs from the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. “Oh Danny Boy” was a bit of a surprise, but a very pleasant one. Other titles include “Blackbird,” “I Have Been Deceived (a combination of three Elton John songs),” and James Taylor’s “Frozen Man.”

Listeners looking for an artistic exploration and interpretation of some favorite songs will find much to like in Song of Myself. The album is available now for download only and will be available in CD format later this year. Very extensive notes on the music as well as lyrics (original and interpreted) are available at tobinmueller.com. Downloads are available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!
August 7, 2012