Tom Smith And His Digital Acoustic Compilation

Tom Smith

Dodeka Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Outside my existence as a Daily Vault reviewer (yes, there is something outside it), I am a somewhat active member of the 'fen' community. For those unfamiliar with the term, 'fen' is a collective noun for SF fans, gamers, convention goers, SCAers, and weirdos. Yet for many years, I had managed to -avoid- filk music, the soundtrack of fen. Filk is folk, but with a twist -- it's handcrafted music, new or parody, that is distributed mostly by word of mouth through SF conventions and filk events, usually involving SF, fantasy, pagan, or humourous themes; Internet distribution has become very common, as many fen are also computer users. Musically most of it is folk or Celtic, although rock-filkers, country-filkers, and at least one rap-filker exists. See this sitemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 for more information than anyone needs about filk.

Enough academia. Let us get to the meat of the matter: Tom Smith is the man responsible for making me like filk -- nay, actively enjoy it, and want more. Smith is called 'The World's Fastest Filker'; he has been known to write compositions at SF conventions to order while stopwatches tick, and his faculty for verbal and musical puns is astonishing and occasionally painful, often reaching Tom Lehreresque proportions.

Digital Acoustic Compilation is his new greatest hits (sort-of) CD. It includes tracks from his first two albums, Who Let Him In Here? and Domino Death; redone acoustic tracks from his experiment into keyboard-accompanied music, "Plugged"; and a couple of early songs he re-recorded for aesthetic reasons. The production and engineering on this CD are an improvement over normal filk. (Much filk tends to sound like it was recorded in someone's bathroom. Sometimes it is.)

Smith's sense of humour and timing is exemplary, and his selection of targets for parody is keen, reminding me of a guitar-bearing Tom Lehrer. "I Want To Be Peter Lorre" is a side-splitting look at old movies and who usually survives them; "My Unicorn Song" neatly deflates the cult of the monohorned beast; "Return Of The King, Uh-Huh" sends Elvis to Middle-Earth; and "Operation: Desert Storm" is an insiduously funny tribute to one lone desert warrior. (Note for the patriotic: this song is NOT about the United States military).

Laughs aside, what raises Smith above the legion of puerile Valdemar fans with guitars is his serious side. "Starlight And Saxophone,""Mandela,""Rocket Ride" and the dark-edged "PQR" are all excellent, but two tracks stand even above those: the faerie story "Storm Dancing," whose haunting melody will echo in your head long after it is over, and the magnificent Jim Henson tribute "A Boy And His Frog." There aren't too many songs that make me cry; this is one of them.

Not everyone will like filk. The relentless in-jokes and varying production will turn off many; it requires an appreciation for guitar folk and science fiction at the same time, also difficult at times. But there are very few real songwriters in the world; Tom Smith is one of them, a bearded SF geek with a pen and a stopwatch who turns out music with substance and style.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Dodeka Records, and is used for informational purposes only.