Label / Cat No: Polydor Special 2482 292
First Released: 1972
What The Album Blurb Says:
None - just some blurb about other albums in the series (if you're interested, Big Band in HiFi stereo, HiFi Stereo Festival, HiFi Stereo In concert, Golden instrumentals in Hi Fi Stereo and Love Songs in Hi Fi Stereo.....)
What I Say...
We start 'Happy Season' here on Forgotten Albums with this little gem, a compilation from 1972, but made up of tracks recorded within the 10 years prior to this collection. This Polydor 'Special' album was clearly made to be played on high end home stereo's of the time, and the fact that 'hifi-stereo' is in much bigger typeface than the album title bears this out. You'll notice that the cover indeed features a hifi stereo, and the make and model are even catalogued on the reverse of the sleeve, such is the focus of the equipment.
More interestingly for me though is the Happy South American lady on the front who looks like she's from Chelmsford. There is absolutely nothing Latin about this young lady, except for the props she's been made to pose with. Her slightly khaki Dorothy Perkins blouse doesn't seem quite in keeping with her Mexican sombrero and Peruvian poncho, not to mention the revolver. That is some mighty weapon she's packing - are we to infer that all happy South American's are also banditos? Is the defining quality of the entirety of South America revolutionary gun slingers? If only they had pasted on a Zapata moustache as well, we'd have the full set for stereotype bingo. What lack of foresight the designers had there.
The record itself is in pristine condition. For a cover and the vinyl to be in such good nick 45 years after production would seem to imply that the previous owner didn't play it much. Unlike many records in the collection, there's not a scratch and barely a crackle anywhere. Actually, I suppose it could have been treasured beyond Inca Gold, and kept in climate controlled conditions to preserve the magnificence of this album. But I doubt it.
I'll be honest. What with the proto-Sloane Ranger on the front, and the fact that most of the recordings were made by people with German names, I didn't hold out high hopes for the quality of this collection. But I was wrong. So wrong.
Side 1 opens with the sound of sleigh bells. Well, they may not be actual sleigh bells, but something that sounds exactly like sleigh bells. This rapidly morphs into the throbbing Latin drums before a smoky voiced lovely starts seductively whispering short phrases over the top. If ever there was an opening to an album to draw you in, this is it. I have no idea what this woman is saying - for all I know she could be reading the football scores, but I don't care. I just know that I'm hooked.
And so the scene is set - lots of thumping rhythms, lots of pipes (which sound suspiciously like flutes to me....) lots of squeaky trumpets, but sadly no more sultry temptresses whispering Spanish nonsense. Can't win them all I suppose.
'La Machine' or 'The Machine' for you non native speakers out there is a curious one. We get some xylophone, and our first significant guitar of the record, though not the acoustic you might expect, but a perfectly plucked electric. To my uneducated, ill-refined ears, this sounds less like Latin America and more like Highlife from Nigeria. I wonder if in those pre-Peter Gabriel days the good people at Polydor needed a filler for their South American compilation, and popped this in hoping that nobody would know any better. To me it sticks out like a sore thumb, but in 1972 would it? Would it?
And that's not saying it's not a great track - it is. Bumps up the happiness quotient well, just not sure it fits with this album too well.
'Guantanamera' starts like it's an outtake from Grease, then picks up a melody that wouldn't be out of place on the football terraces. Once I found myself singing along with 'There's only one Kevin Keegan, there's only one Kevin Keegan', I couldn't stop, and can't unhear it.
On a related note, when my sister was at University in the mid / late Eighties, she was asked why she had a picture of a 70s footballer on her wall. She didn't. It was a contemporary picture of me. Outrageous.
And so on to track four - Para Los Rumberos. If any track were a westernized, 60s interpretation of South American music, this is it. The pace is frantic, the bongos (or SA equivalent) are battered for all their worth, the brass is at it's squeakiest, and the electric guitar over the top of it is straight out of 1967. The combination is joyous and uplifting in the extreme.
The album goes on in this vein, pretty much until the end. The only dip in the high-energy feel good tunes is the closing of Side 1, 'El Condor Pasa', which is a low-energy feel good tune. Until recently I only knew the Simon and Garfunkel version of this, which for all it's loveliness, does come across a bit twee now. This version, although falling on the muzak spectrum, has a certain charm about it, if only because it's not the S&G version, and now falls firmly into second place in my personal El Condor Pasa Top Ten, after this gorgeous version by Richard Durrant. Yes, I have a personal El Condor Pasa Top Ten. You want to call me out on that? Do you?
Moving on. Side two is very similar to side one, unsurprisingly enough. If 'El Condor Pasa' gave you a breather at the end of the first side, 'Amparita Roca' pulls you straight back in for side two, starting with a Mariachi fanfare, clip-clopping drums and full on bullfighting grandeur.
I spent ages trying to think what the next song, La Boliviana reminded me of until it came to me in a flash. Jump to 3:07 for the full flavour.
You get the idea by now. I can't help but feel that a lot of these songs are western appropriations of South American ideas, melodies arranged and produced to within an inch of their lives to please the aural palette of the European. Take the final song on the album - Desafinado. This is smooth jazz, as smooth as smooth can be. It's only the drumbeat, low in the mix barely holding the gossamer threads of the delicate saxophone. These songs owe as much to their South American roots as my Mum's 1980s curry owed to subcontinental cuisine (sorry Mum). Some are clearly South American in origin, but clearly not in the arrangements, whereas others are South American only in the sense that they'd pass muster in a Ballroom Latin class.
Speaking of European ears though, although the writers of the songs do tend to have mostly Spanish names, the performers are very much more Teutonic sounding. We have songs from Ladi Geisler, Kai Warner, Max Greger and Kurt Edelhagen. My remaining hope was for Roberto Delgado as the sole genuine purveyor of Latin music, until I found out that Delgado was the stage name of Horst Wende from Saxony. Ladi Geisler was Horst, sorry Roberto's bass player, and also played for Bert Kaempfert and James Last himself. It seems that the tracks here are all from James Last contemporaries, both in time, and it would seem, place. For some reason Germany was a hotbed of South American rhythms in the 1960s, and this album is a distillation of that.
So is it Happy? Surely that's the point. James Last always wanted his albums to be a party, adding whooping and hollering to keep the excitement going. It's a tactic that worked, although not employed here, but the music was always arranged perkily. Well, I'm pleased to say that it is, very happy. With expertly orchestrated songs, frenetic rhythms and expertly played arrangements, this may not take you any closer to South America than Leipzig, but it provides song after song of upbeat entertainment, and I'm really glad to have it in my collection. Taco, anyone?
1. Salambo No. 1
2. La Machine
4. Para Los Rumberos
5. El Paso
6. El Condor Pasa
1. Amparita Roca
2. La Boliviana
4. Caballero Ole
5. Cha Beat
9 out of 10
There's only one Kevin Keegan, there's only one Kevin Keegan
Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What I Say...
Something strange is happening in Forgotten Albums land (yeah, it's a real place. Shut up.) You see, in the past I've listened to these albums once, maybe twice and reviewed almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But in relaunching this site, and almost by accident I've heard this one now maybe a dozen times, and something strange happened. Despite hating it the first couple listens, I think in this case at least, familiarity has bred content rather than contempt. I'm not going to be adding this to my list of top 100 favourite albums anytime soon, but if you persevere past the two opening tracks, there is something of merit here.
A very quick recap - This album opens with the two 'recitations' - Red Sovine ladles on the emotion in a spoken word short story over a competent country music background. But, but.... at the end of track 2, 'Little Rosa', he finally bursts into song and shows us what he can do, and boy can he do it. It's a great country voice, even if he overreaches at times (listen to the soundclip of 'It Ain't No Big Thing' to see what I mean). It's not one of the all time classic voices, but it's warm and emotive and perfectly suited to this kind of material.
I think it's fair to say that Good Ol' Red isn't breaking any new ground here with either the arrangements or the subject matter of the songs. But then why would he. This is traditional country from Nashville in 1975 - he's hardly likely to be the godfather of disco now, is he? I did find that after a while I was giving more honest subtitles to the songs which I think give a flavour is what we have here.
1. Teddy Bear = Disablement of a child is sad
2. Little Rosa = Death of a child is sad
3. It Ain't No Big Thing = My gal is leaving me
4. Last Mile Of The Way = My gal doesn't appreciate me
5. Bootlegger King = Redeemed by love and Jesus
1. Daddy = My Dad is better than your Dad
2. Love Is = Love is cliches
3. 1460 Elder Street = I'm responsible for the death of a man
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took a Walk = My Dad is worse that your Dad
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home = I love my truck - in a healthy way, of course
6. Sad Violins = Sadness is sad
In line with my more usual musical tastes, this album reminded me of Frank Zappa for two reasons. Firstly, there's the fact that when the PMRC were looking to censor or ban records for inappropriate content, one of the leading opposers to any legislation was Zappa for fairly obvious reasons. However, an unlikely ally in the fight against censorship was the Country Music fraternity. Because Country music deals with death, alcohol, and the darker side of the human condition it was ripe to become a target of a blanket censorship created by more sensitive individuals. It may be packaged in a traditional, homely format, but this tradition of Country song is folk music in its essence, songs that deal with the dark realities of life and living.
Secondly, there's more than a touch of 'Truck Driver Divorce' about this album, see...
There are another couple of songs I'd like to highlight. 1460 Elder Street is what you'd get if Porter Waggoner and Roald Dahl had joined forces for an episode of 'Tales of the Unexpected'. A soldier, about to be drafted out to Vietnam picks up a married woman who confides that she's lonesome as her husband is away fighting. After a torrid night of love (my interpretation, I add - Red is far too much of a gentleman to give any of the details away), she decides that she wants to be with the narrator, and tells him that after he comes back, he can live with her at 1460 Elder Street.
Some weeks later, in the heat of battle a grenade lands near our 'hero', and another soldier with nothing left to live for leaps onto the grenade killing himself but saving our chap. When he looks through his effects, he finds a 'Dear John' letter from the late soldier's wife. The return address being.... I won't insult your intelligence.
But this troubles me. You see, the woman in this story gets together with our man because she's lonely as her husband is away. And yet the man she chooses to replace him with is also a soldier and is also going away. How is this going to make things any different or better. And a man died because of this inconsistency. I shouldn't let it bother me, I really shouldn't. But it does.
For me though, there is one standout track on the album, and that's the side one closer 'Bootlegger King'. So it's a trite tale of a dirt poor boy who turns to crime, but is ultimately saved by the love of a good woman, the birth of his child, and finding Jesus. But it's a wryly observed bit of writing, and the music is just excellent. All those ingredients - piano, guitar, steel, fiddly are balanced just perfectly, each taking it in turn to shine, all over a rolling Johnny Cash style beat. It's a catchy little number, and no mistakin'. If there's one lasting tune from this album that makes it into one of my regular listens, it'll be this one.
I'm not ashamed to say I actually quite like this album. Well, I am a little ashamed, and I am of course excluding the title track, but overall it's a good Country album. The musicianship is brilliant, the arrangements excellent, and Red Sovine has a warm and inviting voice. I can't help but with he'd put it to slightly better use, but hey, it was a different time.
And for those of you who remember those heady, carefree days of part one of this review, this is the two minutes of scratched vinyl that was a welcome relief after the first two songs.
1. Teddy Bear
2. Little Rosa
3. It Ain't No Big Thing
4. Last Mile Of The Way
5. Bootlegger King
2. Love Is
3. 1460 Elder Street
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took A Walk
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home
6. Sad Violins
3 or 7 out of 10, depending on whether it's the first listen or the sixth...
Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What else I Say...
OK, so what was meant to be an album review turned into a bit of a rant about just the first song. Sadly, I suspect that we're going to be walking down a well trodden path here, but join with me anyway as we move on to the next track...
'Little Rosa' is another recitation song, that is Red Sovine uses every ounce of his sincerity to regale us over a mournful steel guitar with the story of a grieving Italian immigrant trying to have a moment's peace over the grave of his late daughter. Well, that escalated quickly, I mean at least Teddy Bear for all his disabilities was a living breathing child. Two songs in and we're dealing with infant mortality. That's a pretty steep curve by anyone's standards.
It seems that Red recorded this song originally in 1956, and twenty years later re-recorded it, presumably in the belief that it fitted the light-hearted tone of this album. It opens with the kind of close-harmony female singing that seems more fitting for 1956 than 1976, and which is absent from the original. And while the production values are better, I think I prefer the orginal for two reasons.
Firstly, it's very slightly slower, a bit more sparse with the instrumentation, and just seems to fit the delicate subject matter better even if the tremulous emotion in Mr. Sovine's voice is just over the edge of believability. And secondly, because in the intervening 20 years, Red has obviously been practising his cod Italian accent, and lays it on so much more thickly.
At first I was quite shocked - we live in an age where even the gentlest mocking of the peculiarities of someone speaking English as a second tongue is frowned upon and the comedy accent is all but a thing of the past. But actually, this was recorded in 1956 and 1976, and things were different then. Just using Italian as an example as Red is here, we still found it "hilarious" with Joe Dolce and 'Shaddup You Face' in 1981, and still finding it just as funny 8 years later with this sort of thing...
I do believe that after Red has intoned "... during the course of our conversation and in his broken English this is the story just as he told it to me..." it would be a bit weird if he then went on to relate the tale in his West Virginian drawl. I suppose any humour we hear is derived from the very fact that we are used to hearing the 'comedy' Italian accent, and it does trigger those memories of 'Allo 'Allo and Mind Your Language.
And to be fair, there is no mockery at all - the purpose of this song is to tug at your heartstrings, pure and simple, and a pro like Red wouldn't undermine that by even hinting that the man telling the tale to him was a figure of fun. Actually, looking at the lyrics written down gave me something that the recorded version didn't.
The over-sentimentality of the song version hides the compassion of the narrator. After all, this is a story that starts with Red going to visit the grave of a friend, noticing a man crying at a graveside, and him going over, putting a hand on his shoulder and engaging with the mourner. There's a kindness, an empathy which isn't the focus of the song, but which jumped out at me when I ignored the delivery and just looked at the text. I was surprised to find myself suddenly thinking about the song in a different way. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that songs about grieving fathers needs more than a couple of listens before the effect wears off, and I shan't be adding this to a playlist anytime soon, but it did make me more open to this album as a whole. It's odd, as this song is just as 'mawkishly sentimental' as Teddy Bear in many ways, but whereas that left me cold and feeling deliberately manipulated, 'Little Rosa' with even a little reflection became quite sweet and endearing.
And so that just leaves us with the whole of the rest of the album to deal with in one post! Yeah, I can do that, surely.... So for now, here's Red Sovine with his 1956 version of 'Little Rosa' as performed in 1962. Try not to be too dazzled by the Rhinestones.
And as a treat, here's Red in glorious technicolour performing the song with Webb Pierce, who appears to be wearing one of Abba's outfits.
Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says:
The Country Music industry is made up of all sorts of people. Most of the performers seem to have one particular area in which they excel. Some have great personalties [sic] which overcome thier lack of talent, some are beautiful to look at, some are fantastic musicians, some have superior voice qualities, and I could go on and on.
I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that every successful entertainer possesses a certain quality which seems to set him apart from all the rest. The fact that he or she is unique is one reason for that artist's success. I believe that to become a superstar you must have a voice that is easily recognizable. For instance, when you hear Johnny Cash, you know immediatly [sic] that it is Johnny Cash. Nobody has to tell you. The same is true of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow and all the others.
Red Sovine is a man with that quality of voice. He is gifted with that certain unique difference that sets him apart from all the rest. His voice seems to have been especially designed to allow him to do the kind of songs which have made him as popular as he is. When I listen to Phantom 309, Giddy Up Go, and now to Teddy Bear, I know that there is no other man who could have done them any better. He is the best in the world at what he does. And most performers will tell you that it is much more difficult to talk a lyric than to sing it. Red Sovine tells his stories with a warmth that is untouchable. He milks every drop of meaning out of every song he records.
I was present when no less than a dozen people heard Teddy Bear for the first time, and without exception, They all reached for something to wipe that uncontrollable tear from their face. Those tears let you know that the performer has captured the song and projected the words with believability, and believability is what recording is all about.
Red, I envy you. I wish that I had the ability to do what you do with a spoken lyric. For what you do, you are the best in the world.
And, incidentally, the first time I ever heard about Teddy Bear was in a telephone conversation with Charlie Dick.......... He didn't see me pull my hankerchief [sic] out of my pocket....... Nobody did.
What I Say...
Back in the heady days of 2010, when the world seemed young and fresh and hope was abundant, I pre-recorded a load of albums so they were ready to pop onto my steam powered phone and listen to at my leisure. I'd set the album recording, go and do something else, and pop back just to flip the vinyl over and check. These files have been sitting on my hard drive, faithfully backed up and transferred onto each new computer, waiting for their moment in the sun.
On playing back this particular album, I found that the third song, "It Ain't No Big Thing" included 2 minutes of the needle stuck in a groove. As I was driving at the time, forwarding through wasn't really an option, and as I listened hypnotised by the repetitive 'can it be, can it be, can it be' I had a sudden realisation that I was enjoying this loop more than I had the previous two songs.
A comment on a previous incarnation of this blog called me 'fashionably cynical' when I announced my dislike for the mawkishly sentimental. It's the only time I've ever been called fashionable, so I choose to take it as a compliment. However, if the mawkishly sentimental is your thing, then these opening tracks are definitely for you.
Red, or Woodrow as his mother knew him, found a niche market in country music with his sentimental and/or trucker songs. I've encountered albums full of trucker songs before, and I'll be honest, it didn't really turn me into a fan. In 'Teddy Bear' Red is clearly mining deeply into both seams - bear with me while I try and explain....
'Teddy Bear' is the C.B. handle of a disabled (or in the acceptable parlance of the time, 'crippled') boy, who is lonely and calling up truckers. We find out in sequence that a) his mother has told him not to use the radio, b) he uses it anyway because he gets lonesome sometimes, c) he gets lonesome because his Mom's at work, and d) his Mom's at work because his Dad, an erstwhile trucker, died in an accident a while ago because he was driving home in the snow and let his desire to get back to the family overbear his ability to drive safely in hazardous conditions.
After telling his tale of woe to a soft-hearted trucker over the radio, he says he has to go because his Mom will be home soon. This duplicity is unforgivable - he knows he's doing wrong, as he's aware he has to hide his actions from his grieving single parent, but Teddy Bear doesn't care. As he's leaving, the trucker asks him his address, and Teddy Bear gives it to him!
I know we live in an age where we're all aware of the dangers of giving out too much personal information over the internet, but even in 1975 I'm sure this would be considered a risky move, but nobody, especially Red seems overly bothered that a disabled boy has announced to strangers over the radio that he's home alone. Anyway, our soft-hearted trucker immediately turns his rig around to go to the house, only to find on his arrival that all the truckers around were queued up around the block to take Teddy Bear for a ride in their cab. That fashionably cynical part of me can't help casting Teddy Bear as a master manipulator, playing these truckers like a cheap violin, making them come round and take him out for trips.
And so as the song ends, our primary trucker is going home, safe in the knowledge that he's made a little boy happy when Teddy Bear's Mom comes over the radio to say Thank You to all the truckers who've made Teddy Bear so happy. The same Mom who had been telling Teddy Bear not to use the CB while she was out. Seems that she was won over easily - more manipulation from the boy himself no doubt.
All this is delivered in Red's sincerity-overdriven voice over what is admittedly a really nice country tune. All the ingredients are there - steel guitar introduction, rolling piano, brushed drums, but the cloying sentimentality of this song just leaves me cold. When this was released in the mid-seventies, it proved to be Red's biggest hit and stormed the Country Music charts. And to be fair, if I try really hard to remember what it was like before the cynicism took over, I can sort of understand why people would latch onto this - though that's for another post. But looking at some of the comments under the YouTube video for this song, people still unironically (is that a word?) consider it to be a great track, and the manufactured sentimentality doesn't seem to bother them the way it does me.
From what I can make out, this was Red's career peak which to me seems a shame as there are so many better tracks on this album. Red also recorded a song called 'Little Joe' in which Teddy Bear as an adult is a character. Except apparently by this stage, Teddy Bear can walk. Given the evidence above of his abilities in manipulation, is it so far fetched of me to speculate that his attention seeking behaviour might also extend to pretending he couldn't walk? Yes, yes it probably is, but I'm just putting it out there.
Having dwelt so long on the title track, I'm going to break with tradition and split this review into a number of parts. After all, if you thought that this song was cloyingly sentimental, just wait until we get to track two...
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, Teddy Bear by Red Sovine
Little Joe, the 'sort of follow up' to Teddy Bear. I hope you have your hankies ready - he's upped the ante, and on top of the sentimentality and truckers, we also have a heroic dog. I know!!
And because I can't resist a foreign language song, here's a cover of Teddy Bear in Dutch. You can't say I don't treat you right, you lucky people.
For those of you who want to have a go at being Red Sovine for a day (and why wouldn't you, eh?) there's a Karaoke version of 'Teddy Bear' here. Go on, you know you want to. And oddly enough, I'm pretty convinced that it wouldn't be too hard to use the same track for 'The Green Green Grass of Home'.
1. His Name Is Wonderful
2. Every Moment Of Every Day
3. He Lifted Me
4. When I Kneel Down To Pray
5. I Would Be Like Jesus
1. Sweet, Sweet Spirit
2. His Gentle Look
3. Take Up Thy Cross
4. He Touched Me
5. Beyond The Sunset
2 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: D&M Sound DML 1
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says...
As one Disc Jockey Said - "The Vast Majority is not just wall to wall sound; it is city block to city block sound - and babe, it's all disco heat and color!"
That's where T.V.M. is at! Sixty of the greatest players and down home singers that ever hit a speaker system. They start by working out driving funky rhythm charts and tracks - add strings, brass, reeds and then finally their great blues and salsa vocalists. You name it! From funky blues to symphonic jazz - sensuous salsas to hard rock. The vast majority has it covered.
What I Say
I believe that there is a transatlantic and generational gap in understanding of the word 'Disco'. Clearly for our American cousins in the 70s, Disco was an exciting, energetic movement. It was a scene, with its own rules, its own dress code, its own moves and its own drugs of choice. It was cutting edge, it was, frankly, funky.
For me, hitting my teens in the early 80s, the word 'Disco' means a school organised event once a term, where teenage boys fuelled on Mars Bars and Coca-Cola would act like pillocks on the dance floor until the slow set started, when they suddenly became stuck to the walls.
American 70s Disco had Studio 54, Tavares and Shep Pettibone. English 80's Disco had middle-class white guys called Tim who'd play a selection from that weeks Top 40, plus 'The Birdy Song' and 'The Can Can'.
I can still clearly remember my first Disco, in the main hall of Causton Junior School, Felixstowe in July 1982. It was still light outside, and all the P.E. equipment had been moved to the side of the hall to make room for a dance floor. I even recall that two of the songs that were played were 'Green Door' by Shakin' Stevens (who, I'm sure I needn't remind you, was dubbed 'The Welsh Elvis'.... hah!), and 'The Hucklebuck' by 'Coast to Coast'. A happening scene, it was not.
And all this background flavour is only to point out that I am the last person who should try to review a Disco album. I am thoroughly unqualified to make any assessment as to what's good and what's not. To be fair, I know that's never stopped me before in my reviews.
I've spent some time trying to find out if this is a proper, genuine Disco album, or some cheap cash-in. I started with the assumption that it was probably the latter, not least because it has the words 'Disco Dynamite!' plastered across the back of the sleeve. I thought that a genuine part of the Disco movement wouldn't need to state it so boldly. I then discovered that the scores were by Colin Fretcher and Roy Budd. Now, Roy Budd may be a respected film score arranger, but he's also from South Norwood, which is just round the corner from where I was born, and most definitely not Disco Central. The other chap, Colin Fretcher, is credited as producer on this album which is hardly going to do his credibility any good.
But the producers, Dave Miller and Marty Wilson seem to have a good enough reputation, and know what they're doing. The catalog number of DML 1 made me think this might be some fly-by-night outfit, but D & M records were set up in 1975, just in time to get in on the early days of Disco, and according to some sources, they invented the concept of the 12" single. Yikes!
So, I'm prepared to accept that this is the genuine article - an album from the early days of Disco. But is it any good? Well.... I enjoyed it well enough. It didn't make me want to get up and dance, though very little does these days. You know, what with my ageing bones and everything. But what really struck me was the unpolished nature of the songs. They seemed slightly plodding, pedestrian almost. None of the high polish and perfect production that marks the later Disco sound. I suppose for me that that's what gives this its authenticity. It's a snapshot during the development of Disco. It's not the finished article, but a work in progress. All the elements are there, but it would take a while for this professional shine to be applied.
And that's about it. It's OK. Actually, it's quite good. But of course, Disco gave rise to Disco Dancing, which was always a challenge. Until now....
And those tracks from my first school Disco...
1. Love For Sale
2. Move It!
3. Pain Dealin' Woman
1. Muddy Sneakers
2. Salsa Woman
3. Take It!
4. Oceans Apart
6.5 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Hallmark CHM 624
First Released: 1969
What The Album Blurb Says...
For those of you who are as yet unacquainted with the happy looking gentleman on the right, permit us to introduce you to Mr. Bob Blaine
Early biographical details can be found on the sleeve of his previous album 'BOB BLAINE SINGS COUNTRY MUSIC FOR BEDTIME' - Hallmark HM. 581. Suffice it therefore for us to say that he hails from Liverpool, has had years of experience with many name bands, and, as you will discover, he is a very fine singer.
Bob is considered by many people in the music business to be a walking encyclopeadia on standard songs and for this album he has personally selected the best, and most romantic of the songs of the Islands and just for good measure has thrown in three brand new ones that he wrote himself, including the title song 'HAWAIIAN HONEYMOON.'
So if you want to escape the weather, the tax man, or anything else that bothers you, may we suggest you get the album, go home, slice a pineapple, light a sunlamp, turn on the record player, sit in your favourite chair, play the record, close your eyes and you're off to Hawaii - Bon Voyage.
What I Say
Last time I admitted my ignorance regarding national musical exports, I managed to (quite understandably) ruffle a few Canadian feathers. As I pointed out at the time, any nation that gives us Celine Dion should surely face international sanctions. Anyway, I confess an equal lack of knowledge on the musical history of Hawaii, and shan't compound my ignorance with ill-informed commentary.....
Oh, who am I kidding. That's my stock-in-trade - ill informed opinion based on incomplete facts and minimal research. So, what do I know about Hawaiian music? Well, there's the Ukelele, which isn't what George Formby played (that was a hybrid between a ukelele and a banjo, and was quite seriously known as a banjolele. See, I do know some things....) Beyond that, I get stuck, although I did like that Israel Kamakawiwo'ole song they used in that advert.
And, er.... that's about it I think. Except to say, I really don't think that what we're presented here bears much relation to real Hawaiian music. Not least because it's been recorded by some Scouser who's probably never been further west than Llandudno. To my uneducated ears, it sounds like a series of slow tempo Country Music songs with a bit of ukelele and slide guitar stuck in the mix for good measure. I'm prepared to accept that this might be the genuine Hawaiian sound, but I seriously doubt it.
The songs really do all sound the same - same tempo, same arrangements, more or less the same melody, with just a couple of exceptions. "Black Is The Colour Of My True Loves Hair", despite sounding like a Donovan lyric is quite a dark, moody piece, clearly showing the harder side of our Scally Bob.
The second slightly odd song on an album called Hawaiian Honeymoon is 'Flower of Tahiti'. I had to go and check on Google Earth, but I'm right. Tahiti really isn't anywhere near Hawaii. But hey, those South Sea Islands are all the same, aren't they....?
In 1969 Merseyside, Hawaii, and indeed Tahiti, must've seemed endlessly exotic, and they were therefore prepared to accept any old tat with a Hawaiian tag just to get themselves a taste of the islands. But knowledge of other cultures was a little more.... basic than perhaps it is today (anybody for My Boomerang Won't Come Back?Anybody....). I'm sure the English record buying public were prepared to believe that this light country froth really was the sound of the islands.
And clearly Hawaii is synonymous with romance, lust and dusky maidens if the cover's anything to go buy. Despite the title track being about the romance and special nature of taking your new bride to Hawaii, the cover depicts a new bride in a revealing negligee, clutching a book called 'Honeymoon Hints', looking shocked because her husband has lured four Hawaiian beauties to the boudoir using only his Ronco Slide Guitar. Looking shocked and mildly put out is probably the best reaction he could have hoped for - I'm pretty sure if I'd lured four dusky maidens to the bedchamber on my honeymoon I wouldn't be a father of three now...
All in all this is a bit of a wallpaper album. It's so gentle it just washes over you so that you almost don't notice, like a warm breeze in Waikiki. Not that I've been to Waikiki, but I have been to Llandudno. But I've never been to me.
And this is how to do it right:-
And this is a bit of banjolele for you good people.
1. Hawaiian Honeymoon
2. Hawaiian Wedding Song
3. Song Of The Islands
4. South Sea Island Magic
5. Blue Shadows And White Gardenias
6. Beautiful Dreamer
1. Aloha Oe
2. Hawaiian Memories
3. Moon Of Manakoora
4. Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair
5. Flower Of Tahiti
5.5 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Stereo Gold Award MER408
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says...
The truck driving man is about as individual and as special a breed of man as you're ever likely to meet. He's a man used to long silences broken only by the soft hum of wheels that burn up the miles between lonely townships. He has his own set of driving rules, his own language and his own songs. They're songs that truly reflect the nomadic life that he leads and the situations that lie around each bend in the road, songs with titles like "Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves", "Burning Rubber" and "Bumper to Bumper". The truck driving man may sing, hum or whistle them as he drives along that long black ribbon of tarmac towards his destination. Now you can share these songs of the road, as Big Dave and the Tennessee Tailgaters play and sing the tunes that have their own special message for each truck driving man... wherever he may be.
What I Say
I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but I'm as sure as I can be that this album is a cheap and nasty record cynically trying to cash in on the 1970's trucker / Convoy fad. Yes, shocking I know, but I'm willing to bet there there is no such person as 'BIG DAVE', let alone the Tennessee Tailgaters.
Let's look at the evidence shall we? Firstly, there's the fact that BIG DAVE isn't being used to push this album. The biggest text on the album sleeve is 'Truck Driving Man'. Poor BIG DAVE is relegated to a small corner of the tarmac, and his Tennessee Tailgaters get an even smaller point size. If you go looking for BIG DAVE on the internet (along with the TTs, of course), the only reference you'll find is to this album. Hmmmm.... sounds mighty fishy to me.
Secondly, Big Dave manages to sound like a very convincing woman on 'Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves', probably because it is sung by a woman. So unless BIG DAVE is either a) an hermaphrodite with an ability to switch voices at will, b) a very good impressionist or c) has an incredible range, then I don't think he alone tackles the vocals. Fair enough, it may be one of his Tennessee Tailgaters, but as there are sadly very few details on the record sleeve, it's hard to tell.
But the most damning evidence for how nastily this album has been thrown together to hang on to the 'Convoy' fad of '76 is all connected to that particular song.
Exhibit A - the big splash across the young ladies nether regions saying 'including CONVOY'. Clearly the makers of this album are using that song as the attention grabber. After all, why else paste those words across her mimsy. However..... there is a further implication by placing the splash there. It's suggesting censorship, that the young lady leaning suggestively on the cab of the truck may be showing more than she should.
But look! Thanks to the internet, I found a copy of the original, American version of this album, and LOOK! No splash, no 'including CONVOY', and no flesh needing to be censored....
Exhibit B - some simple maths. On the front cover it lists 7 songs, and says '& 4 Others'
By my reckoning that makes 11 songs. But look at the track
listing.... six songs on each side. That always made 12 when I was at school, which means they've stuck an extra song on there. I'm betting it's Convoy.
Exhibit C - The vocalist on CONVOY does not sound at all like BIG DAVE. In fact, he sounds completely different to BIG DAVE, to the degree whereby I would argue with some confidence that it's not BIG DAVE at all, but some completely other person.
Exhibit D - The credits on the album label are all intact for every other song. Every single one. Except Convoy. Why would that be, unless it was a last minute addition to the album.
Now, I may be going out on a limb here, but I reckon that this album, originally released in America, had a version of Convoy stuck on for the British market becuase the timing meant that Convoy was fresh in the mind of the British music buyer, and this was a dirty, nasty, cynical way of selling their grubby little record. BIG DAVE? Big FRAUD, I say.
Which means I haven't spoken about the music (mostly Country with a couple of Bluegrass instrumentals), the inability for the culture to translate (American Knights of the Road on the wide open plains vs. a bloke from Dudley in overalls sitting on the A14 to catch the night ferry to Zeebrugge) or how this music is inappropriate (instrumentals telling of the life of the truck drivin' man? How does that work. Oh, and that 'Diesel Smoke Sally' seems to be about a woman who'll sleep with any trucker who passes through her cafe. Charming).
But you don't need to know about all that, when it's all been built on such flimsy foundations. You know, I never thought I'd have to turn detective, but I'm glad that I've saved you from this charlatan. You may thank me at your leisure.
1. Truck Driving Man
2. Gimme Forty Acres
3. Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves
4. Burnin' Rubber
5. King Of The Road
6. T-Town Tailgaitin'
2. Six Days On The Road
3. Giddy Up-Go
4. Diesel Smoke Sally
5. Bumper To Bumper
6. Girl On The Billboard
1 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Columbia PCC-80105
First Released: 1985
What The Album Blurb Says...
None. Boo! But, but.... when reading through the lyric sheet, I came across this gem...
"Are we alone? Erich Von Daniken asked us to believe the temples and pyramids are proof that earth was visited in its embryonic stage by an ancient intelligence.
In writing the lyrics for the interconnecting songs on 'Alien Shores', I was inspired by the thoughts of unexplained mysteries of our past, which may never be answered. But Hungry Eyes will perpetually seek the truth.
What I Say
This album has purged me of my guilt. You see, in 1993 I bought a pair of slacks from a gentlemen's outfitters in Albert Road, Morecambe. I believe the colour was described as 'stone', and I wore those stone slacks. Often.
With hindsight, I had tortured myself in the knowledge that they were the worst pair of trousers I had ever bought, and probably the worst pair of trousers in the world ever. Yes, they reall were that bad. But then, oh happy day, I slipped the inner sleeve out of this album, and what did I find? This...
Those really are the worst slacks ever to have been created. And not just one pair of bad slacks, but FOUR! That's a 100% hit rate for the Platinum Blondes. Combined with those four nasty white jackets, we have the perfect snapshot of 1985. I believe this photo should be kept in an archive somewhere as an important historical document. And of course to serve as a warning to future generations.
And try as I might, I can't not speak about the hair. Back-combed, sprayed, bleached, coiffed, and... wonder of wonders, the bloke on the right has one of the best expressions of the mullet that I have ever seen. This is a man at the top of his hair game, and yet he looks the most uncomfortable of the four. Somehow his face just wasn't made for those times. Oh..... and is there a hint of black eye-liner there.... Marvellous.
As far as I can tell, with no research whatsoever, Canada has produced only 3 notable musical talents that have become known outside their country. And considering that two of those are Bryan Adams and Celine Dion, you'd think they'd learn to keep their music to themselves. (For information, the third is Barenaked Ladies, for whom I maintain a soft spot). But in the mid-eighties, it seems that Canada was at the forefront of pop music. Platinum Blonde have got everything needed to be a pop sensation in 1985. They've got the clothes and the hair, they have the ability to pose and to brood under their floppy fringes. They even have perfectly competent 80s style pop songs, so why oh why weren't they massive.
Well, they were. Really. This album went quintuple platinum in Canada. For a brief, glorious moment, Platinum Blonde were major stars on the Canadian scene. Which illustrates again how subjective I am in choosing these albums. I would consider this record to be obscure and unknown, but that's just in my experience. Given a different time and place, this was monstrously successful. Only goes to show how much I have to learn....
But the other reason I believe they weren't more successful outside of Canada lies in a description given to the band of 'The Canadian Duran Duran'. On reading this I'd assumed that it was because of the look, and maybe the style, but no. Most of the songs on this album could easily have been written by the Durannies. The blokes voice (I really can't be bothered now to go and check his name. Oh, that's a bit rude isn't it. Hold on.... It's Mark Holmes) even sounds like Simon Le Bon. And there's the rub. Did the world really need two Duran Durans? I think not. So outside of Canada (where I assume their homegrown status helped enormously), they were pretty much redundant.
It seems that they keep plodding on, and there are interesting photos showing the band playing on a small stage outside the Hard Rock Cafe in Ottawa to about 12 people and a dog in 1999. And not a mullet in sight.
Oh, and I forgot Alanis Morissette, though I think that probably only adds to my argument.
2017 Edit - And here's the 80s in a four-and-a-half minute nutshell.
2017 Edit 2 - Shhhhhh..... Don't tell anyone, but.....
1. Situation Critical
2. Crying Over You
3. Red Light
4. It Ain't Love Anyway
5. Somebody Somewhere
1. Lost In Space
2. Temple Of the New Born
3. Holy Water
5. Hungry Eyes
5 out of 10 - not bad, not good, not original, not my cup of tea
1. That Old Black Magic
2. Down By The River
4. Long Ago And Far Away
5. Robins And Roses
6. The Way You Look Tonight
1. Love Is Here To Stay
2. They Can't Take That Away From Me
3. Transatlantic Lullaby
5. Some Enchanted Evening
8.5 out of 10 - I like his style...
Label / Cat. No: Sacred SAC 5064
First Released: 1972
What The Album Blurb Says...
SOUNDS OF FRESH WATERS are exciting new sounds from Merv and Merla Watson, two remarkable musicians, well-trained and refreshingly creative. The music from this husband-wife team is a rare find in its up-to-date lyrics and original sounds that communicates with any audience.
Merv and Merla are not like some folk singers you've heard. They have a different drive, an unusual commitment to their music and its message. The songs they sing are a part of them, for they have spent many long hours in composing, scoring, searching for the right words to please their audiences across their native Canada and the United States.
Merla is accomplished as a vocalist, pianist and violist. In 1962 she toured the Middle East as soloist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation concert party entertaining U.N. troops. Merv, outstanding with the guitar and accordion, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has taught music in the Toronto schools. Together the two originated the idea of the Schoolhouse Concerts in Toronto to stimulate interest in the performing arts as a means of Christian witnessing.
The concert series met with immediate success, as did Merv and Merla, as they sang their own folk music at each concert. Recognition for the two came quickly and they began touring with their folk-gospel music, receiving acclaim for their ability. Audiences everywhere responded enthusiastically to their music that moves naturally, uninhibited by tradition or boundaries.
This album is their finest work, sounds and feelings that are jubilant, some haunting in the contemplation of God, others crystal clear in lyric, all fresh and new, a symbol of their faith.
What I Say
I don't think I've ever met or known of anyone called Merla. To my 30something English ears, there's a certain exotic ring to the name. It conjures up 1950's mid-west diners, gingham and bitter coffee. For all I know, it could have the same connotations as 'Doris' or 'Mabel' over here, but there is a certain glamour I can't help but imagine.
The picture of Merla in a very 1972 dress with her racy gold shoes does nothing to dim my excitement. The only thing that can do that is to listen to the album.
I know that the job of the album blurb is to sell the album to the casual record browser, but you can't help but wonder how they can promise so much and yet deliver so little. In the case of Merv and Merla, I had considered a line by line breakdown of their claims against the reality, but I can feel a rant coming on, and would need a couple of aspirin and a good long lie-down if I went down that route.
But there are four key issues that I think do need to be addressed:-
1. The up-to-date lyrics reflect a two-millenia old system of religious beliefs. Not the most up-to-date now, is it?
2. Communicates with any audience? Surely that's the point of an audience, or am I missing something here?
3. Merla is "accomplished as a vocalist, pianist and violist". So why picture her on the album cover holding a guitar, an instrument which you seem to be saying she wields with all the grace of a lump-hammer?
4. Merv is a graduate of the University of Toronto is he? In what subject? Zoology? Physics? What?
One other thing that bugs me is that poor Merla is relegated into second billing, even though alphabetically her name comes first, just. Is poor Merla just another victim of the misogyny of patriarchal society, or does 'Merv and Merla' just sound better than 'Merla and Merv'? You decide.
The music itself is an odd blend. The album starts with a guitar sounding like a harpsichord, which leads into liturgical-influenced melody. It seems to be tripping over itself, but never quite falls.
At times this album conjured up 1960s Leonard Cohen (that'll be the folk element then), and at other times, it reminded me of the soundtrack from 'Hair' (though being Christians, I kind of doubt that Merv and Merla would be cavorting naked, covered in body paint during their "Schoolhouse Concerts".) Some of it was quite Jewish in its influences, and it was only subsequently that I found out that Merv and Merla now reside in Israel.
There's talk on that site of 'Merla's Miracle', a book detailing how Merla defied the surgeon's predictions after a 'bizarre' accident where a piano crushed her hand, and in fact did play professionally again. You will of course be pleased to know that in the cause of furthering my knowledge of the artists I present to you here, I have tracked down and purchased a copy of 'Merla's Miracle', and I will of course let you know in due course what the book's like.
The most bizarre track however is 'The Time of The Singing Of The Birds' in which Merv and Merla whoop, holler and tweet like a pair of demented magpies. Sadly this track jumps on my copy, meaning I can't present it in it's fullness. But thanks to the wonder and diversity of YouTube, I found that someone had used it to enhance some video of some birds.
So ladies and gentlemen, kick back, relax, and enjoy the freakish sound of Merv and Merla.
1. O Sing A New Song
2. Consider Him
3. The Time Of The Singing Of The Birds
5. Hear My Prayer
6. Just Before Midnight
1. I Will Sing
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd
3. It's Gotta Be Great
4. In The Night
5. The Seed Of Joy
6. Grace Be To You And You
5.75 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: CBS / MONO BPG 62822
First Released: 1966
What The Album Blurb Says...
"There is a New Sound in town and it is provided by LOS VEGAS, a gifted quintet of Mexican troubadors." - Nick LaPole, New York Journal American
"The Los Vegas Quintet, on the Ed Sullivan Show are nothing less than sensational." - Ben Gross, New York Daily News.
Here are Los Vegas, five tremendously talented young Mexicanos with a tasteful, exciting and swinging new sound. A gratifying blend of jazz-rock-pop-Latin, this electrifying group is "turning on" audiences from New York to San Juan. The combo included a pianist, two guitarists, a timbales-bongo player and a drummer.
Los Vegas sing with finesse; their smooth harmonies are reminiscent of North American groups like the Pied Pipers and the Four Freshmen. Their instrumental beat is groovy - the lads really swing. And wait until you hear the virtuoso sounds they get from guitars, timbales, bongo, bass and flute.
Also, the Los Vegas repertoire is well rounded. It has quality, pace and variety. The selections in this album are nicely balanced between Spanish and Yankee tunes. From People to La Cucaracha, the combo projects each and every number with polished pipes, faultless musicianship and unbridled enthusiasm.
Barry Authors of Bel-Aire Artists Corp., Ltd. brought Los Vegas to album producer Teo Macero's attention, and your excitement is bound to match his from the moment you first hear them too. Olé!... you're off and swinging with Los Vegas, The Newest Sound in Sounds!
What I Say
You know, they're really setting themselves up for a fall when they call their album 'The Newest Sound in Sounds'. For a start, what the hell does that actually mean? After all, I've heard pretty much all the sounds present on this album before, and a lot of them in the same mix and blend as they are presented here. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there isn't a single new or surprising sound to be found whatsoever on this album.
Which is a shame. I really did want to enjoy this album though I think that's because of the claim that their instrumental beat is groovy - the lads really swing. I'm not sure that I'd call this album 'groovy' or 'swinging'. The word I think I'd use is 'dull'. And 'cliched'. I know people don't always want to push barriers, and if you want a nice, gentle, unthreatening album of mid 60s latin tinged easy listening, then I'm sure that this would represent a good investment.
The problem for me though is that this promised so much. I mean, come on, there's a Timbales-Bongo player. That surely means that things are going to ROCK. We've been promised a heady blend of "jazz-rock-pop-Latin". Throw in prog and country and you've got the whole bally set. This should be music that tears down those staid barriers, sticks two fingers up to 'the man', and presages punk by a decade. But it isn't.
If you recall, there's a scene in the 'Blues Brothers' where Jake & Elwood go to find Donald 'Duck'Dunn, and he's playing bass in a jazz lounge band. The Brothers are appalled that such an incredible musician should be playing such wallpaper fripperies. This is what this album reminds me of - cocktail lounge jazz at its blandest. Just listen to 'I Wish You Love' to see exactly what I mean.
Where there are songs that I should recognise, they are so draped in Mexicana that it's impossible to dig out the original tune. Even 'La Cucaracha', which is a Latin song is so Mexicaned-up (is that a word?) that it's in danger of collapsing in on itself under the weight of bongos.
I think that Barry Authors of the wonderfully corporate sounding Bel-Aire Artists Corp., Ltd. thought that because the five members of The Fantastic Los Vegas had matching Tuxes, bow-ties and cheesy grins, that they would be a saleable commodity.
I'd like to think that we're all a bit older and wiser now. But I doubt it. Westlife anyone?
2. People (From "Funny Girl")
3. La Cucaracha
4. A Poor Millionaire
5. A Taste Of Honey
6. The Sinner
1. The Shadow Of Your Smile
2. Hidden Place
3. Cuando Calienta El Sol (Love Me With All Your Heart)
4. I Wish You Love
5. What You Will Do
1 out of 10 for describing these gentlemen well on their way to middle age as 'lads'.
Label / Cat. No: Embassy WLP 6030
First Released: 1961
What The Album Blurb Says...
Anchors aweigh! Splice the mainbrace! For the Riverboat Banjo Band is about to be launched - and you'll really go overboard about the tunes they've decided to play.
Yes, as nautical a crew of strumming chaps have never made such a happy-go-lucky voyage. Welcome aboard. First-class accommodation only, and a guaranteed smooth passage for all.
The Riverboat Banjo Band really make you feel you're having a carefree, away-from-it-all time. Why not sit comfortably amidships and relax?
Boats and banjos have a long association now. You can look first at the old Mississippi paddle boats that went out from New Orleans. Southern belles were serenaded against a background sound of churning paddle wheels by the banjo which raised its sometimes plaintive, always pleasing, melody above the noise.
Then came the time when the banjo was a more exclusive instrument. At least, there were just two in a boat. A girl reclining on the cushions of a drifting punt, a man strumming his banjo between spells of poling.
Today, we get the best of both worlds.
There are some tunes that seem to have been written for the banjo; they have that something extra at the nimble hands of the banjo-player. That's certainly how it sounds here. A dozen of the banjoest tunes you could ever imagine, played at a fair turn of knots by a blue riband crew of banjoists.
Listen to them and you can well understand why the banjo is enjoying such a return to popularity. It is happy music, all-pals-together music that could change a hornpipe into a twinkletoe quickstep, that could even make the Ancient Mariner forget his years.
All we ask as you play it, don't have your friends all dancing to starboard as the Riverboat Banjo Band sets sail. Your turntable could well turn turtle. So, indeed, could your dancers.
Which would be a pity, because before the riverboat drops anchor, there is a cargo of happy memories to be shared, and a tidal wave of warm, flowing melodies to enjoy.
Take a trip with the Riverboat Banjo Band and you'll be wanting the same, sparkling voyage again and again.
What I Say
OK, let's get this out of the way. Any album that features the sleeve notes "a girl reclining on the cushions of a drifting punt, a man strumming his banjo between spells of poling..." is going to get my vote every time. Such an evocative picture, and so unintentionally funny when viewed in a somewhat less innocent era.
But I should start with the sleevenotes rather than the sleeve or the music, because they are so wonderful. Obviously, the junior writer who was given this commission picked up on the supposed nautical theme and really ran with it. After all, they start "Anchors aweigh! Splice the mainbrace!" Now I'm no nautical cove, and even I know that a paddlesteamer or riverboat is propelled by a steam driven waterwheel, and not by sails, therefore making a mainbrace redundant. I'm sure I'll be corrected now by somebody far more educated in these ways than I am, but I still stand by my argument that whoever wrote these notes was stretching an already tenuous link.
Again, I'll concede that banjos and riverboats might go together in popular culture, but banjos and punts? I return to our gentleman strumming and poling (and all in front of a young lady too - shocking). I've been punting, I know how difficult it can be, and I can tell you from personal experience, if I'd had to pick up a banjo and give it a quick strum between strokes, I would have become pretty disillusioned with the whole affair very quickly.
Our valiant writer does his (or indeed her) best to try and make the banjo sound interesting and desirable, but gives themselves away by saying that the banjo is enjoying "such a return to popularity" Clearly at this stage it had been properly unpopular for, oooh, about 80 years I'd suggest. And with good reason too. After all, the banjo is not the most serious instrument in the pantheon of music makers. It's the hyperactive young cousin of the guitar, useful for novelty songs, but little else.
This is abundantly clear on this album. When they stick to stomping banjo tunes, you can almost forgive these men for learning to play in the first place. OK, so it's not to my taste, but I can see how you'd be caught up with the foot tapping revelry that they suggest.
The album opens with a perfect banjo styled opening , and we start with a proper footstomper.
Sadly though, by the time we get to Moonlight Bay, the second song, they've overstretched themselves. Two cardinal sins have been committed - firstly, the song is slow and tries to convey emotion other than light hearted wackiness. Secondly, the banjo takes over a vocal melody, which it clearly wasn't designed to do. It sounds like an octogenarian Italian crooner. Or at least what I assume an octogenarian Italian crooner would sound like.
But with the next two songs we hit the motherlode. The banjos find themselves with their natural bedfellows: The trombone and the muted trumpet. The three pariahs of the orchestra sitting at the back of the class, causing mischief. They rattle along at a fair old pace, and after racking my brain as to what they reminded me of, I realised that either of them could be used by the Two Ronnies as the accompaniment to their musical number at the end of the show. Yes, they're so good, they could have been written by Ronnie Hazlehurst himself.
Yes Sir, That's My Baby is an odd one. It has vocals. Yes, I know. Vocals. On a banjo album. How dare they? Close harmony male and female combo vocals at that. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was The Brian Rogers Connection from 3-2-1 (or almost any ITV light entertainment programme from the late 70s). Sorry if you'd only just managed to wipe the horror that was 'The Brian Rogers Connection' from your mind.
The last couple of tracks on side one are more middle of the road banjo type ramblings. There's only so much I can about banjos, considering I know so little about them. In 'You Are My Sunshine' the banjo and muted trumpet take turns to replace the lead vocal line. As you know, I believe that the banjo substituting vocals is an abhorrent mockery of nature, whereas the trumpet sounds great. To have the two together makes for a real sweet and sour experience. And then Side one ends, as it opened, with an absolute benchmark of the style.
Top that, Radiohead.
The big let down of this album is that after the stunning highs and soaring lows of Side A, the B side is just.... competent. It's more of the same really, shuffles and stomps, redeemed only by the fact that someone, somewhere decided to rhyme 'paddling' with 'Madelaine' to come up with 'Paddlin' Madelin' Home'. This would have been a stroke of genius if it had been a vocal track, but as it's just a bunch of banjos playing, you might as well have called it "Oof, my Piles are playing up something rotten." So really, they're letting the side down (pun fully intended. Sorry)
Row, Row, Row
On The Mississippi
I'm Sitting On Top Of The World
Yes Sir, That's My Baby
How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm
You Are My Sunshine
If You Knew Suzie
For Me And My Gal
He'd Have To Get Under
Don't Fence Me In
Beer Barrel Polka
Somebody Stole My Gal
Paddlin' Madelin' Home
7.75 out of 10
(It would have got 6 out of 10 just for the phrase "A dozen of the banjoest tunes....")