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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Original Film Soundtrack
La Dolce Vita / Giulietta degli Spiriti
CAM CSE 009 / CAM CSE 011


 

Last month's review of the fine Fellini/Rota tribute by the Czech Symphony Orchestra  (Silva SSD 1024) reignited our fuse for Nino Rota. We went back through our collection  of Lps and spent days reveling in Felliniana. How did Rota write so many memorable  themes?

La Dolce Vita is the soundtrack to the 1960 movie that most of us remember for the scenes  of the good life in Rome but in fact it's a very dark film that both glamorizes and warns of  too much decadence. One of the final scenes has Marcello Mastroianni pounding a wet  and drunken lass with a feather pillow, applying the feathers to her wet skin and then  riding her while she's on all fours. It may sound tame by today's standards of debauchery  but it's still a horrifying scene. You're never clear how far the characters will go. The film  rides a fine line and raises more questions than it answers.

The really good news is that this soundtrack release has much of the music that's been cut  from various re-issues over the last few decades. We have at least three Lps that have a Dolce Vita "suite" that's always sounded choppy, particularly after the new Space Age  Bachelor Pad anthem Cadillac. Hearing the recordings in the original form, it's easy to see  why because this version segues right into a wonderfully cheesy version of Arrivederci  Roma. Other bits of what seemed only incidental music before are fleshed out into full  pieces and it's fascinating to observe how Rota interweaves them and brings them back to  the main La Dolce Vita theme.

As background music, certain cuts are perfect but as a whole, this is a real film soundtrack  and being basically a dark movie, some of the more orchestral bits are beautiful but pretty  sad. Like all good Fellini/Rota collaborations, there's a bit of circus music that can be  jarring if you're not prepared. Like the movie, emotions tend to be all over the map. One of the themes is titled La Bella Malinconia (The Beautiful Melancholy) and this just  about sums up the entire La Dolce Vita experience.

Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits) was a much lighter film and the music remains  on a similar note throughout the soundtrack, although there are the waltzes and circus  themes as in La Dolce Vita. Other than hearing the music in the film and the main theme  on compilation albums, we weren't that familiar with the rest of the music. Like La Dolce  Vita, themes and riffs are expanded and revamped, always coming back to the main  melody. Few discs have helped us with the tedium of housework as well as Giulietta degli Spiriti.  It's basically light and nutty. Bette Midler claims she played the soundtrack when she got  married in Las Vegas and we can see why.Giulieta degli Spiriti has an occasional chorus of other-worldly voices that help accentuate  the spirit world protagonist Giulieta Masina is dealing with but the effect is also very  Space Age Pop, a la Esquivel. Everybody wins! We can't imagine anyone not "getting" Nino Rota. His music was quirky, accessible and  inspired. The fact that these melodies accompany first rate movies is an added bonus  because the music can stand on its own. Both CDs are imports but easy enough to find and their relatively short length (by toady's  CD standards) shouldn't be too much of an obstacle.

Review appeared originally Winter 95/96
 

 Martin Denny
Afro-Desia
Scamp SCP 9702-2 Easy Listening / Exotica

Everyone knows about Martin Denny's wonderfully silly Tiki Lounge aesthetic and there's  a good chance you even own the Rhino Records Compilation, Exotica! (Rhino R2 70774).  Our reaction to the Rhino collection was, "Yeah, that's cute" and that's selling Denny  Short.

Denny was really an album artist rather than having hit singles (although we all know and  love Quiet Village), so Afro-Desia works as a whole much better than the Exotica! collection. It's even nuttier and we have the surreal vocals by the Randy Van Horne  Singers to push us to even more exotic heights. The songs are a mix of well-known  standards (Lecuona's Siboney and Jungle Drums, plus Baia and Temptation) and originals, all with tight-knit percussion and arrangements.  The rhythms combine the South Pacific,  Africa and Latin America but the end result is pure lounge, in the best sense.

 

B-tribe
Suave Suave
Lava Records (WEA) 92609-2 Pop
 

We have friends who occasionally declare the need to go to McDonald's for a Big Mac  every month or so. While sounding perhaps like a snob (is it so wrong?), we really don't  understand this. Just the smell of a McDonald's puts us off. Surely there are better ways to  appease the same craving without entering the golden arches. A greasy spoon or diner of  any caliber is sure to provide a better made burger. Our own personal devils are deep  fried, cheese-stuffed jalapeño peppers and this album.

Suave Suave is really the equivalent to musical junk food. There's nothing important going  on here but all of the riffs are catchy and the slick production goes right after that special  little nook in our heart reserved for Euro-trash culture. A steady diet of this would dull the  senses and make us a slob but we like it anyway.

Unlike the first B-Tribe disc, the few vocals are by non-descript Deborah Blando who  neither adds nor subtracts from the general effect. There's a lot less of the flamenco stuff  and the synthesizer is the star in this very commercial version of ambient music.

 

 Keely Smith
Dearly Beloved
Jasmine JASCD 328 Vocals


 

Our esteem of Keely Smith is obviously high. We sing her praises at every turn and have  even braved contemporary Las Vegas in order to hear her live. In fact, she's one of the few  divas we've begged for an autograph (which was given graciously).

Her output on CD is thankfully almost equal to her talent. We've mentioned before that  you must buy the Capitol collection of her solo work and you can hardly go wrong with  any of the Louis Prima & Keely Smith collaborations. The Jasmine re-issues are basically  for collectors. Each of these discs contains some great tracks, especially What Kind of  Fool Am I and Cherokeely Swings, but mostly the arrangements are soggy and  sentimental. Be My Love is the worst offender and Dearly Beloved comes close except for  the title track (from our favorite film You Were Never Lovelier) and clever track called Close.

It's not that anything on Dearly Beloved is particularly bad, it's just not that good, almost  purposely background music, even with the swelling orchestrations and chorus. The songs  aren't equal to Smith's talent and the bland arrangements don't help.

With any luck, Reprise Records will re-issue Little Girl Blue/Little Girl New that reunited  her with Nelson Riddle and The Intimate Keely Smith which was recorded in a gorgeously  lethargic quartet setting and contains the best version of Time After Time that we know. It's  a prime candidate for digital remastering and CD release because the inevitable nicks and  pops of vinyl rarely coincide with the beat.

 

 The Friends of Dean Martinez
The Shadow of Your Smile
SubPop SP306b Pop
 

When we first received this disc to review, we rolled our eyes to the heavens and  wondered, "Why!" So many genres that we've held sacred are now being revamped by the  young folks and often not very well. The Friends of Dean Martinez perform a kind of  power pop somewhere between surf music, the Ventures and Ennio Morricone's spaghetti  western themes, with a touch of Paris, Texas, thrown in for good measure. The idea didn't  appeal to us but after many trips to our CD player we have to admit that we love this  clever little disc.

It's respectful of its sources without being too derivative and the attention to strong melody  really pays off. The musicians are really talented and arrangements are well-thought-out  but still sound natural enough to be a garage jam. Also, the lack of vocals is refreshing.

Highly recommended.

 

 Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66
Fool on the Hill
A&M/Rebound 314 520 296-2 Brasil
 

Our dear Mater didn't have all that many records in the late 1960s. The Broadway cast  recording of My Fair Lady, Harry Belafonte's Calypso, Herb Albert and the Tiajuana  Brass' Whipped Cream and Other Delights, an inexplicable Golden Greats by the Grass  Roots and The Second Barbra Streisand Album were among her treasures. Today she  wonders if these old records are worth anything. Sorry, Mom! We have to wonder what  today's tikes will remember from their parents' collections: Enya, Paul Simon's Graceland and the first Whitney Houston album?

One of the most intriguing albums in her collection was always Fool on the Hill by Sergio  Mendes & Brasil '66. As we adjusted the rubber bands on our dental braces and cleaned  our thick-lens horn-rimmed glasses on a fun tan velour shirt, we thought that Brasil '66 was the hippest and most exotic thing going. They wore groovy tight clothes and sort of  sang but not really. Their version of Scarborough Fair made even less sense than  originators Simon and Garfunkel's, but the Brasil '66 Scarborough Fair was a much more  fun place to visit.

Hearing this disc again, now in all its digital glory, is a great trip back in time. Too often  we buy CDs of old Lps we thought we loved and rarely give them more than a listen or  two. It's hard not to keep listening to Fool on the Hill over and over. It's not quite Bossa  Nova and it's not quite Brazilian pop. It's somewhere in-between and it's a real hoot.

 

 Maxine Sullivan
Maxine Sullivan Update


 

Several issues back we went on (and on) about the late great Maxine Sullivan and her  album Together in particular. Calls flooded our switchboard here at Coconut Grove  wondering about the availability of the title. Well, it turns out it was out of print and our  local Tower Records had it by a fluke or a return was restocked as a new disc. Was our  face red! Especially since we featured Maxine as our cover girl.

Since then we've done quite a little shopping and have come up with some alternate titles  that you might enjoy. Maxine Sullivan was a real treasure and almost anything she did was  worthwhile, mostly because she sang in a direct honest way, with no vocal gimmicks. That  was incredibly refreshing after hearing countless lesser-talented "song stylists" mangle the  melody and ignore the fact that sometimes a constant steady beat is preferable to a dirge,  no matter what the lyrics might suggest.

We've just acquired We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye (Audiophile ACD-128) which is a two  disc compilation of 1978 dates, We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye and It Was Great Fun.  Despite Maxine's preference for quasi-Dixieland backup at times, these are solid sets with  few surprises but it's all topnotch. We like it but the songs are pretty standard standards  and the pulse doesn't race much.

The Queen, Volume 5: Something to Remember Her By (Kenneth CKS 3406) is an  expensive Swedish import that is strictly for collectors. The band is second-rate and the  recording very sloppy. Maxine sounds a bit tired, too.

The Spanish label Fresh Sounds has released Maxine Sullivan Sings 1955-56 (Fresh  Sounds FSR-CD178). It's just great and shows a nice bridge period in her singing style  where she grows from just another good "girl singer" to a real vocalist.

Maxine Sullivan 1944 to 1948 (Legend CD 6004) shows a younger Sullivan in good voice  and with some interesting backup musicians, including a harp. It contains her big hit of the  easy swinging Loch Lomand and our favorite version of Legalize My Name from Harold  Arlen's St. Louis Woman.

The best disc we found is unfortunately in the same situation as Together: out of print. The  Great Songs From the Cotton Club (Mobile Fidelity MFCD 836) is a great collection with  first-class backup and glorious sound. The program is a strong mix of the familiar and the  neglected, all written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler from the early days of Harlem's  Cotton Club. It's no wonder that Sullivan continued to sing Arlen's song throughout her  career. They're a perfect match.

We'll follow up another time with her Concord Jazz recordings. We have Singin' Sweet (Concord Jazz CCD-4351) with the Scott Hamilton Quintet, which is a live recording  from Japan in 1986 that is nice but we prefer a more intimate setting.

Finding out of print recordings can be frustrating but not futile. Music search services like  MrLucky advertisers All Music Services (415.864.8222) can be a big help and  scouring the bins at used shops often turns up big finds.

 Lou Rawls
For You My Love
Capitol Jazz CDP 7234382897927 Vocals

We came of age when Lou Rawls was riding high singing songs like Lady Love and You'll  Never Find, basically causing us to lose our lunch. We were still smarting from the  realization that the Partridge Family were not real musicians and trying to embrace the tail  end of the counter culture revolution.

It wasn't until the late 1980s Low Rawls renaissance with albums like At Last and It's  Supposed to Be Fun (both on Blue Note) that we realized we had misjudged Rawls and  that he in fact had a pretty dreamy voice and when he sang top-notch material, he was  great. Digging back through the Lou Rawls catalogue, we find a lot of mediocre material  and lots of silly narrative "jive storytelling" that more often than not fizzled out. For You  My Love, however, is a real gem that's worthy of your consideration. Arranged and conducted by jazz greats Benny Carter and Benny Golson, For You My  Love is a solid collection of R&B and vocal standards that swing consistently. All of the  tracks have a breezy Route 66 type of feeling. We would have liked a few slower ballads  on some of these tracks, without all the brass but, the album is consistent. We really are nuts for I Love You Yes I Do.

 Yomo Toro
Gracias
Mango 539 589-2 Salsa / Puerto Rico
 

Part of the thrill of being MrLucky is that we are not bound by time. Sure, we love  to discover the latest new releases but quality is really all we are concerned with, so we  know you'll indulge us a peek into our music library and impart some dated advice. Yomo Toro is probably Latin music's finest example of the quatro, a particular Caribbean  style of guitar very similar to Cuba's tres. It has a more "stringy" effect than a traditional  guitar and its fuller sound is perfect for Afro-Latin rhythms. In addition to three discs that  we know of, Toro often plays as a sideman on all-star dates. He's more than worthy of his  reputation.

His albums on the whole are a mixed bag. Not possessing Latin-lover good looks nor a  particularly effective singing voice, we imagine the record companies don't know quite  what to do with him. The best moments on these discs are when Toro is showcased on  traditional or straightforward numbers. When all the right elements are in place, Toro is  nothing short of sublime.

Gracias, from 1990, is his strongest set. Escuela de la Vida is a great example of when  everything works. It's a simple son with a catchy chorus and good vocals by Dalia Silva,  who appears on all three discs. Toro gets to solo, as does Louis Khan on violin. It bounces  all the way through and has become one of our favorites. Also strong are Gracias, Amor AmorAmor and Atrevete.

There are two hoped for but never attained "crossover" attempts. Se Acabo is fair but Stop  Playing With My Heart is a mess and we can't believe this was Toro's idea of a good song. The nice thing about Gracias is there's much for heavy duty salseros and lovers of Afro- Caribbean music in general to admire while those fond of Ottmar Leibert's brand of insipid  pseudo-Flamenco rock will enjoy the disc in the background and might even get a  hankering for some of the real thing.

Just released is Toro's latest, Golden Hands (TWI Records, TWI 1001), which is well- meaning but not very exciting. Better to stick with Gracias or the 1988 release, Funky  Jibaro (Antilles New Directions 7 90693-2).

 

 

 


 



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© Coconut Grove Media


Scientific, Accurate
& Easy To Understand!
5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor

 

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