Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death

Original Broadway Cast, 1971 (A&R, 2LPs; no CD) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Onstage, this piece with book, music, and lyrics by Melvin van Peebles was intensely theatrical; I was actually frightened when cast member Minnie Gentry looked straight at me and vowed to “Put a Curse on You.” On record, it’s a less powerful experience — an interesting assemblage of jazz-based songs, dramatic monologues, and narratives delivered by a cast including Bill Duke, Albert Hall, Garrett Morris, and Beatrice Winde. (Ossie Davis and Phylicia Rashad joined the company in 1972, after this recording was made.) Much of the show is written in what might be called a “street poetry” style, if that phrase is not too pretentious. Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death is skillfully constructed, with the songs and the very attractive underscoring enhancing the monologues as they move into, out of, and around them. I can’t say this is a cast album I listen to every day, but if you can find a copy, it certainly won’t bore you. — David Wolf