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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Alfredo Rodriguez:
Cuba Linda
Hannibal HNCD 1399 Cuba

It's been such a long time since we've felt our hips move involuntarily to the intoxicating rhythms of Latin America. We were about to give up hope, wondering if the glory days of the Caribbean had past. Suddenly pianist Alfredo Rodriguez' new disc, Cuba Linda, finds its way into our compact disc player and at once the sun is shining, the rum drinks are poured, the shrimp is skewered, ready for the fire, and a large box of Havana's finest cigars are at our disposal. Even more exciting, we find ourselves dancing around the house by ourselves, causing concern for our neighbors (another San Francisco earthquake?) and excitement for our dog, who decides to dance with us. The problem is we both insist on leading and our routine is rather a mess.

We held our breath during the first track, Tumbao a Peruchin, thinking, "If Rodriguez keeps this up for at least half the songs on this disc, we've got a winner here". What's really swell is each track is better than the next. The track Cuba Linda starts out with a lovely piano doodle, followed by drums and chants in the guaganco style and then suddenly goes all out with the whole band going to town. Like his mentor, Peruchin, Rodriguez plays piano in a manic percussive way that sends the body into dancing convulsions. The rest of the band is topnotch and bridges the gap between traditional Cuban music and the jazz and funk influences of the New World.

Cuba Linda was recorded in Havana and it was the first time Rodriguez had returned in years. No doubt it was an emotional reunion with his compadres but it's never sentimental, except maybe for the really sweet lullaby Drume Negrita. Mexican Maria Grever's Cuando Vuelvo a Tu Lado (What a Difference a Day Made) is a charming danzon-cha, but the rest of the tracks are rip'em up rumbas, congas, sons and descargas. There's not one loser in the bunch and each track excites in a unique way.

One of our aficionado pals complained about the recording quality but we rather like the jam session feel to the whole thing. The instruments are mixed appropriately and the piano is right up front where it belongs. The arrangements are tight, the solos plentiful and we think this is the disc to beat in 1997.

Needless to say, we're smitten!

Review originally appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of MrLucky.



 

Korla Pandit
Odyssey
Fantasy FCD 24746-2 Exotica/Easy Listening

Karla Pundit
Journey to the Ancient City
Dionysus ID 123336 Exotica

    The Mysterious Korla Pandit! 

Anyone who thinks that America in the 1950s wasn't an odd place has never heard Korla Pandit. In his jeweled white turban, he mesmerized early TV audiences as he stared into the camera and played the organ against a backdrop of rolling clouds, spreading his message of love through his "Universal Language of Music". He was completely sincere and if the few recordings we've heard are any indication, he wasn't very good. Pandit played himself in the recent film biography Ed Wood. He's at the party scene whopping it up on the organ, using all of his limbs to add percussion to the swinging exotic organ sounds he's making. It's a neat trick that unfortunately he doesn't employ on the new Fantasy Records re-issue, Odyssey.

The first half is selected cuts from the record Music of the Far East and the disc Latin Holiday in its entirety. The Far East tracks are fun in a campy sort of way. We imagine this is the sort of thing Norma Desmond would have enjoyed on slow hot Hollywood afternoons in Sunset Boulevard. Titles like Love Song of the Nile, Tale of the Underwater Worshippers and Harem Bells do more to conjure up images of the exotic Far East than the actual music does. It's pretty bad but wonderful in an Incredibly Strange Music manner. The second half, Latin Holiday, is downright bad and easily could be used in a roller rink or third-rate merry-go-round. It's pretty disappointing because we love the idea of Korla Pandit, not the reality of a lot of his recordings.

Someone else who loves the idea of Pandit is Lance Kaufman. He bills himself as Karla Pundit and has made a tribute to Pandit that is so clever, we think it will be hard to go back to the real thing. Journey to the Ancient City is very swell. At seven tracks, with titles like The Lagoon at Midnight and Procession of the Animal Priests, he's produced a brief loving tribute that is all the things we want the real Pandit to be but isn't. Karla Pundit takes the best of the Korla Pandit legacy and compacts it into a really fine CD. To add to the sounds, the album artwork is very good, showing fictitious albums by Pundit like Legend of the Forbidden Desert, all inspired by the original Pandit's Fantasy Records look. The notes are hysterical and add to the cheesy exotica.

Apparently, the way to really enjoy Korla Pandit is by watching his old television performances, which we understand are available on video. In the meantime, we suggest the Karla Pundit tribute.

Review originally appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of MrLucky.
Korla:

Karla:


 

Charles Brown:
Just a Lucky So
and So
Bullseye Blues BB 9521 Blues

Pencils in hand. Friends! Take note: Charles Brown's Just a Lucky So And So is the first great disc of 1994. No home should be without a copy, including yours.

We know that just last month we were telling you about his Blues and Other Love Songs, even lamenting the fact that his Bullseye recordings suffered from too many guest stars and not enough album cohesiveness. Well is our face red! Out comes this great new recording and the folks at Bullseye proved us happily wrong. From the orchestrated opening of I Won't Cry Anymore to the plaintive close, So Long, this album is the real thing.

Please don't twist our words, readers. The other Bullseye recordings have been fine but his duet with Bonnie Raitt, Someone to Love, ended up being a Bonnie Raitt song rather than a duet or a Charles Brown song. As much as we may like Ms Raitt, she's no Charles Brown and their styles aren't really sympathetic. The other problem is that Brown gets constantly pegged as a blues singer when in fact he's a great bluesy vocalist. He has the cocktail blues. For marketing reasons it probably makes more sense to call him a blues singer but the music Charles Brown makes is very different than an Etta Jones or an Eddie Cleanhead Vinson.

As far as this album goes, it has a classic feel to it but the big arrangements and orchestrations don't have that irritating "Big Band Tribute" sound that can mar a Natalie Cole or Harry Connick, Jr. disc. Just a Lucky So and So has a great new arrangement that just pops as it hits its stride. His umpteenth version of Driftin' Blues is given an upbeat new arrangement, complete with new tempo changes and a call and response from the boys in the band. He cleverly picks One Never Knows from the old Shirley Temple movie Stowaway that was sung in the film by Alice Faye and later by Billie Holiday. It's a great song that's been all but forgotten until now.

This disc was recorded in New Orleans but other than the high musical standards, it doesn't feel like the Big Easy. The only mediocre track for us is Gloomy Sunday which we've always found overly dramatic and hardly worth reviving. The other track you'll want to program out is A Song for Chrisimas and that's because it's such a wonderful new holiday song that you'll want to save listening until next December.

It's really an inspiration to see this old Master at work and getting better with each recording. Don't wait for a sale- buy Just a Lucky So and So at full retail. It's good value at any price.

Along the same completely objective non-gushing lines, we might also at this point suggest you purchase Driflin'Blues: The Best Of Charles Brown on EMI America (EMI 7979892). which is a compilation of all of his great Aladdin recordings, often as part of Johnny Moore and his Three Blazers. The sound quality varies greatly but the performances are almost all topnotch. We might even be so bold as to say that Lucky So and So and Driftin Blues would be the two essential Charles Brown Cds you must buy but that would leave out Alligator's One More For the Road and there have been nice moments on all of his discs so we won't make this suggestion.

Review originally appeared in the April 1994 issue of MrLucky.

 

Red Garland
Red Garland's Piano
Prestige (P-7086) Jazz

Building a collection of music in the MrLucky manner can he a daunting task. Years of manic and obsessive collecting leads to a rooms full of Compact Discs, Long Playing records and even a few cassette tapes. There's nowhere to sit, let alone think. Boxes of receipts pile up and notices come from several unrelated banking institutions concerning the large amount spent at the same series of music stores. Do you file Meatloaf under Pop or Vocals? Nobody said it would be easy.

We're now hoping to save you a little time, money and space and suggest you run down and buy a copy of Red Garland's Piano. Yet again our admired Father first exposed us to this platter and we again are grateful. You might recognize Red's name from his work with Miles Davis or John Coltrane but he has several wonderful albums (many re-released under Fantasy Records Original Jazz Classics umbrella) and we like this one best. At first listening you'll think it's silly cocktail piano but after a spin or two you'll notice that Red is actually simmering to a slow boil. The arrangement 0f if I Were A Bell is like the one he played with Miles Davis but without the horn. It sounds completely new. There are other swinging numbers but the real beauty is in the ballads, like The Very Thought of You and especially Please Send Me Someone To Love.

Review originally appeared in the Feb 1994 issue of MrLucky.

 

Joanie Sommers
Look Out! It's Joanie Sommers
Studio West 106CD Vocals/Jazz

    Perky Joni Sommers!

Joanie Sommers is almost the female equivalent of Bobby Darin. Like Darin, her biggest hits were inane teen songs. Sommers scored big with Johnny Get Angry (complete with the kazoo chorus) and her version of One Boy from Bye Bye Birdie. She was also the Pepsi girl, declaring Pepsi, like her music, was "for those who think young". Like Darin, she managed to work in a more adult vein; in her case with the top jazz players making the "West Coast Sound" like Marty Paich, Shelly Manne, Russ Freeman and Conte Candoli. It's the same voice, but it's hard to imagine the same girl who complains about being one of "Bobby's hobbies" or lamenting that "Randy moved away" is the same girl who tackles the jazz war-horse Cherokee and comes out on top.

Sommers has a voice as perky as her personality. It can have a nice husky quality to it and it can be cloyingly sweet. When she's good, she's great. It's even more amazing to think that she was barely out of her teens when she had so much control over her voice and phrasing.

Look Out! It's Joanie Sommers is a collection of recordings from 1962 and '63 with bands led by Shelly Manne and Bobby (Route 66) Troup. All of the tracks are pretty exceptional except for the real dog version of This Can't Be Love, but with 20 tracks, that's a pretty good average.

We're nuts about her and this disc is a best case scenario. Still, we forgive you if you find her an irritating putz.

Review originally appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of MrLucky.

 

Precious and Few: Pop Music in the Early '70s
By Don Breithaupt and Jeff Breithaupt
St. Martin's Griffin

Does the mention of the song Chic-a-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It) by Daddy Dewdrop send you to a place deep in your psyche that you'd almost forgotten about? If not, this book won't have much interest or meaning for you. For us, it was a wild ride back to our puberty years, filled with equal amounts of pleasure and anxiety. We remember listening to our local Top 40 station (KFRC) and carefully following the charts on Monday nights, making careful note when our favorites peaked and ebbed. It turned out to be the last hurrah for Top 40.

Authors Don and Jeff Breithaupt have cleverly defined five years of popular music that as a whole we've spent a lifetime trying to deny, when the reality is this music was very important to our developing musical tastes. Precious and Few highlights the era in quick snippets, much like the music itself. It covers all bases from novelty records to protest anthems to soul. This may seem odd in an era where we're all so fractionalized and listen only to one or two styles of music, but in the early 70s, we pre-teens listened to everything: Indiana Wants Me was just as valid as Treat Her Like a Lady or Julie, Do You Love Me?

It's important that the Breithaupts were the right age when this music was happening. A Baby Boomer would have been completely condescending and a Slacker or Gen-X'er would have focused on only the novelty numbers with no perspective. As we read this book (mostly in one sitting), we were flooded with memories of the disappointment with our Pet Rock once we'd opened the box and read the instruction manual. We also remember the inner conflict of knowing somehow that the work of Procol Harem and the Moody Blues was "important" while really preferring The Partridge Family's I Woke Up in Love This Morning.

It would be easy to slip into a nostalgic mind frame and long for these naïve days again, but we're fooling ourselves to think things are so much better now. We bet we'll be rolling our eyes to the heavens, crying "What were we thinking?" when the Celine Dion power-ballad revival of 2010 comes along. Or "Gee, that Michael Jackson didn't really have much of a singing voice after puberty, did he? And isn't he just doing the same old dance in all those videos?" We think there will be plenty to laugh at.

The book is fascinating and gives just about all the information one could possibly want about these hits (which often isn't all that much). It's well-written and provides a great framework to put the whole thing into perspective. The nicest surprise is discovering that you even care.

We tried to stump the book with "what about this one?" and really, the only two pieces we found missing, so key to our youth, were Lynn Anderson's Rose Garden (oh, come on, it's power pop at its best) and Liz Damon's Orient Express' 1900 Yesterday. The authors' definition of Disco is quite a bit broader than ours is and personally we could have used a whole chapter on the classic song-stylist whose unique phrasing and exquisite taste challenged Sinatra: Bobby Sherman. But the book is a gas and we heartily recommend it, especially if you're in your mid-thirties or just have an open mind about popular music.

Review originally appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of MrLucky.

Jackie Gleason
The Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason
Capitol CDP 7243 8 52541 2 3 Lounge / Easy Listening

A few images from our childhood are burned into memory. Topo Gigio on The Ed Sullivan Show, the weird plastic genitalia (or lack of, really) on Barbie and GI Joe, boxes of Pillsbury Space Food Sticks and the cover to Jackie Gleason's Music to Make You Misty come to mind. The Gleason album stands out with its striking photo of a glamour gal, all dressed up to the nines, crying. Nothing seemed as foreign to our young life or represented better the time before we were born.

Our later musical hunts through thrift stores often turned up Gleason's other discs with almost equally exotic looks. We originally bought them for the covers, but soon started playing them for our roommates and friends at dinner and cocktail parties. We knew we were in trouble when we'd come home, make a martini and play them to relax and unwind after a long day at work. It started out as camp but before long it just seemed like the thing to do. The fact that we were only 23 and that "long day at work" was probably as taxing as doing a crossword puzzle seemed irrelevant. The music itself at first-listening would seem like standard Easy Listening fare with its elegant strings and repertoire of standards. It was unabashedly romantic and mushy. The difference between the Gleason recordings and Muzak was an indefinable level of taste. We felt that Gleason wasn't trying to "dumb down" the music to appeal to a corn-fed audience. Instead, he really loved the music and the romantic moods it provided.

A typical number would start out lethargically with just the bass and the slightest hint of brushes for rhythm. Then trumpeter Bobby Hackett would come in and play a beyond-dreamy solo. This would be followed by the strings swelling to an almost unbearable crescendo (simulating we think "you know what"), all the while holding back just ever so slightly. In the right frame of mind, this music would provide the perfect atmosphere for some of your own "you know what", but in a different frame of mind, it's incredibly melancholy. There's no better way to nurse a broken heart and not take yourself too seriously at the same time.

This two-CD collection contains a lot of the trademark Gleason make-out music and that's a reason to celebrate but it also contains some mood-killing later tracks that don't belong on this set. We would have preferred the perfect make-out set. Tracks like A Taste of Honey or The Girl from Impanema get in the way of our billing and cooing. Even better would have been complete re-issues of Music to Make You Misty, Music for Lovers Only and Music, Martinis and Memories, among others. We're not complaining very loudly, however. The audio quality is great and we're thrilled to have this music without all the scratches and pops of LPs getting in the way.

Review originally appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of MrLucky.

 

Simon Shaheen
The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab
Axiom 539 865-2 World/Middle Eastern

We've always had an odd affinity for Middle Eastern music. Maybe it has something to do with our fantasy of being chased through the desert on a starry night, hiding behind palm trees and finally stealing the Sultan's camel, but that's another story. Something about the whining vocals and odd harmony, mixed with those divine little drums, makes us as hot as a freshly-fried falafel.

The world of Middle Eastern music is as big as that of Latin America. Like the Americas, the Middle East and its music has common threads but each country adds its own unique flavor. Shaheen is a Palestinian oud player living in Israel and composer Wahab is a famous Egyptian composer, noted mostly for his film scores. The result is an intense hypnotic disc that we've been playing since its release in 1990.

The best songs feature a full orchestra and give lots of room for Shaheen to go to town on his oud. The opener, Al Hinna, has the strings repeating their riff, as if in a trance, while Shaheen solos. The beats vary and the belly dances.

There are two tracks with vocals, by a chorus, and we find these the weakest. They sound slightly watered-down for Egyptian singers, which may have been to appease those irritated by the Middle Eastern vocals. We'd have preferred things a bit more over-the-top.

The highlight of the disc is Theme & Variations, which features a Western-style orchestra with Shaheen's oud. It's an almost eight-minute flag-waver that we like to play at top volume. The dance of Salomé couldn't have been much better than this.

Review originally appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of MrLucky.
  

 

 

 


 



The Martini rating System

© 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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