Straight from the festivities surrounding President Reagan’s inauguration in Washington, the Red Clay Ramblers are paying a return visit to the Indiana Repertory Theater’s Cabaret.
However this “Off-the-wall” quintet, which got its start in Chapel Hill, NC, didn’t appear at one of the exclusive private parties. The group played at the public one financed by a trust set up by former President Jimmy Carter with money he saved from his 1977 inaugural.
Impeccably garbed in T-shirts and loose trousers with an occasional cap, hat or wig thrown in or on, the multi-talented Clay Buckner, Mike Craver, Jack Herrick, Tommy Thompson and Jim Watson range from comic novelties and hand-clapping gospel numbers to bluegrass and Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.”
Introduced by Irene Bordoni and Arthur Margeston in the 1928 Broadway show, “Paris,” the Porter raised an eyebrow when it was noticed on the song list handed to the press. Together anywhere for the first time--country musicians twanging guitars and Porter, that most urbane of composers?
Accompanying himself at the small upright piano with a backup assist from Buckner and Herrick, Craver turned in a rendition that dropped with surprising elegance somewhere between Whispering Jack Smith and Teddy Wilson, crooned a little higher than the former, technically a little less complicated than the latter.
Music is the Ramblers’ language and they speak it fluently. All vocalists of one sort or another, the five men also play a bewildering assortment of instruments--from the aforementioned guitars and piano to small accordion, mandolin and electronic and acoustical bass, fiddle, clarinet, trumpet and penny whistle.
The Ramblers musicians, who made their first Cabaret appearance a year ago, are funny fellows, not hilarious but better than mildly amusing.
Among the laugh samples, patrons will find the “horror” humor of Lil Anderson’s “I Crept Into the Crypt and Cried” and Thompson’s “McCoy’s Revenge,” a ridiculous juggling act underlined by Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” of all things, and that simple-minded reminiscence of the late Arther Godfey, “The Too Fat Polka.”
The show, 90 minutes short with one break, is an entertaining slice of Americana that provides the reminder that all music is made up of the same basic 12 notes, from Palestrina to Schoenberg, from the hills of North Carolina to the hills of Ireland.
The music, in fact, should appeal particularly to devotees of the baroque, much the same three or four chords, much the same broken-chord and scale elaborations.
The Ramblers will be holding
forth at the Indiana Theater’s third-floor club through Feb. 2.