BWW Album Review: RAGS PARKLAND SINGS THE SONGS OF THE FUTURE is Poignant, Captivating, and Deeply Satisfying
Forced indoors for the safety of our own communities and relying on our memories of life before quarantine to get us through this unprecedented moment in recent history, the cast album for an Off-Broadway musical that centers on the performance of music recovered from data seemingly pulled from memories seems oddly apropos and strangely relatable. This is the moment where Broadway Records' RAGS PARKLAND SINGS THE SONGS OF THE FUTURE (Original Cast Recording) meets us. Highly intellectual and with a somewhat obscured concept in the album setting, this record is equal parts poignant and entertaining.
At its base level, this collection of futuristic protest folk tunes delivers hopeful messages of toppling oppression to find equality for minority populations. In the show's plot the persecuted are human-born people and constructed humans. These entities are wonderful metaphors for any mistreated population, making the heart and spirit of the show relatable to many. This highlights the highbrow brilliance of Andrew R. Butler's artistry in his lyrics and narrative for the musical. Likewise, Butler's choice to write the music in the folk idiom is incredibly keen, as it showcases the power of this reliably familiar and evocative genre in American history.
Across the 15-track disc Butler as the titular Rags Parkland and Stacey Sargeant as Beaux Weathers captivate listeners with their stellar vocals. Butler's gravelly, rough-hewn instrument calls to mind the indie aesthetic of modern folk singer-songwriters. Sargeant's brighter, warmer, and delightfully dulcet alto voice operates as a lush, soulful compliment to her counterpart. Whether a pared down acoustic track from Butler or a full band track featuring the work of Butler (guitar/banjo/harmonica/vocals), Sargeant (vocals), Tony Jarvis (bass clarinet/tenor saxophone), Debbie Christine Tjong (bass/vocals), Rick Burkhardt (accordion/vocals), and Jessie Linden (drums), the artistry on the disc shines with mesmerizing vibrance and make each song a true gem. The two standouts for me being both versions of the wondrously poetic "Stella Charlemagne."
I'd be remiss not to laud Philip Romano's cover and package design for bringing the show's premise to life as much as possible in the album form. Listening at home, audiences for the record don't have the ability to experience the piece in performance and visually see the magic that occurs when the narrative shifts in time. Yet, through Romano's pitch-perfect booklet design, we are treated to fully realized liner notes that include an introduction authored by the fictional Elbme Surfeit; song writing credits given to the characters of Rags Parkland, Beaux Weathers, and more; photographic headshots of the band members; fictionalized mixing and production credits; and other such details that aid in fully understanding Butler's work of art. Romano's clever and digestible work on the project reaffirms how crucial high quality liner notes are in giving listeners the full experience when they sit down with a record. It also shows just how necessary that form of art is in the ability to make an experience not just entertaining but enjoyable on the intellectual and emotional levels.
I never saw RAGS PARKLAND SINGS THE SONGS OF THE FUTURE performed; however, Broadway Records' capture of the musical through this album proves that, while odd, this little show is delightful and powerful. Beyond simply being beautiful, Butler's music and lyrics are instantly captivating and deeply satisfying. The performances offered by the entire cast are nuanced, stirring, and unforgettable. Then, the packaging ensures that everyone can understand what the musical is about and how it operates. Every detail is attended to and guarantees that every facet of the final product shimmers.