Musical funnyman James Sherwood released his album, At The Piano, in 2010. A few years later and it’s still a classic comedy album, well worth having in your record collection.
Currently available on mp3 from Amazon (and other good resellers), this is a mixture of songs and spoken material. Excepting a rather unexpected electronic version of one of the songs at the end of the album, At The Piano captures Sherwood performing live to a well-mannered, though not uproarious audience.
The formula sounds a bit flaccid: a well-spoken, erudite performer addresses the audience crisply, breaking into occasional songs, with a piano for accompaniment. It sounds like a very traditional British performance – the sort of thing that might happen in a light hearted end-of-term lecture in a boarding school.
But Sherwood is delightfully understated, expecting his audience to bring their intellect along, as well as their laughter. Every time I listen to this album, I admire it afresh. It’s just really really good.
Opening with a song that debunks the believed causation between mood and weather that litters popular culture (including the line “There’s no correlation, neither linear nor exponential), the recording sets Sherwood’s stall from the off. He can write an erudite phrase, but isn’t afraid of using poignant musical tricks – and the performance skills of a jazz master – to get them across.
As we move through the album, the Britishness and surreal-nonsense hiding within the hymn Jerusalem is put into its rightful place. Songs like Anyone – a tale of rejection by a potential mate in a nightclub, which one could imagine as a show stopping number in a West End show – demonstrate Sherwood’s range and creativity.
The Best in Me is a dark and twisted take on selfishness (set to a jaunty tune), and Rendezvous, a snapshot of single life in the late night Tesco, is like a jazz nocturne: he can really write and sell a tune.
Sherwood started his stand-up career without the musical element, and has written topical material for, among other shows, The News Quiz, and even devised radio panel shows. This is not just about the music. There’s a mature comic outlook behind this material, and it’s delivered with calm sophistication.
James Sherwood can be found on the comedy circuit. Go and see him if you can. If he’s not nearby, then this album is worth a gig ticket price as a substitute.