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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

The Barry Sisters
Side by Side &
 We Belong Together
Marginal Records MAE112 Vocals

Dancing the evening away...

This must be one of the scariest records we've heard for some time. The song selection, snazzy big band arrangements and an attractive sister act are all right up the MrLucky alley and yet the girls are nothing short of horrible, in a wonderful kind of way.

Our sources tell us the Barry Sisters hit their stride doing a Yiddish act in the Catskills and these were their two albums of secular music. By the 1960s, when these albums seem to have been recorded, Around the World, Who's Sorry Now and Bill Bailey were all done to death so the girls decided to pep them up. It sounds almost as if they're improvising except that they almost exclusively sing every note together. Their attack on the syllables is particularly harsh and it's hard to tell if they have accents or are just very affected.

Like Saturday Night Live's Sweeny Sisters, we're sure the Barry Sisters were confused by their lack of success beyond the small lounge; they had fine voices, great arrangements and all the trappings of "show biz." The bottom line must be a lack of talent.

We enjoy The Barry Sisters the same way we enjoy the occasional segment of the Jerry Springer Show or an auto accident. Anyone looking for the real roots of the current Lounge movement or an explanation for the success of rock n' roll should definitely look into this.


Lalo Schifren
Verve 314.537.751.2 Jazz


Nostalgia for us now seems to be for the swinging 60s but for Lalo Schifren in 1966, nostalgia meant powdered wigs. The complete title of this album is The Dissection and Reconstruction of Music From the Past as Performed by the Inmates of Lalo Schifren's Demented Ensemble as a Tribute to the Memory of the Marquis de Sade. It was a  gimmicky tie-in to a then popular German play about the Marquis de Sade but producer Creed Taylor claimed no connections to the play. He instead wanted "to translate the trends of pre-classical European music into the modern idiom." Pretty lofty goals and what he got instead was an album that couldn't have been made at any other time other than the mid-60s. Taylor and Schifren were aiming higher than the Modern Jazz Quartet's seminal Third Stream and on those terms they fall flat on their faces, but they did create a really great 1960s timepiece that's silly, jazzy and fun.

Best known as the genius behind TV's Mission: Impossible theme, Argentinian Schifren was a lot more. Dizzy Gillespie wisely worked extensively with him producing some of Diz's best later work.  On Schifren/Sade the arrangements are spare and controlled with none of the grandiosity he can have when writing for a full orchestra. In fact, the nicest thing about Shifren/Sade is that while we're sure the fellows worked very hard on it, there's a casual, almost "throw-away" feeling that's refreshing. The flutes, harpsicord and guitar are hysterical throughout but the bass and drums keep things swinging.

We'd say Shifren/Sade is wacky good fun.



Ramona &
Her Grand Piano
The Old Masters MB116 Jazz/Vocals


Hearing Ramona & Her Grand Piano makes us a bit sad. While popular music seems always to allow a small corner for singers with actual singing voices, these days the options for gal singers seem to be the overblown hysterics of  Mariah Carey or Celine Dion or the put-on naturalness and self-conscious folksy manner of the Lilith Faire set. The options seem to be too much hair on top of the head or too much hair under the armpits. We don't begrudge these ladies their place (or grooming techniques), put there's no room for a simple sophisticated vocalist with a story to tell and a song in her heart. The Lounge movement was a step in the right direction, but the vocals need to be married with camp in order to be valid with that set. What's a sophisticate to do?

Ramona was a piano-playing child prodigy but her initial success really came when she teamed up with the seminal Paul Whiteman Orchestra in the 1930s. Her recordings with and without Whiteman are all witty, clever and incredibly catchy. She uses her limited voice to its full effect and at the same time sounds remarkably "down home." Her piano and the arrangements are subtle swinging ditties that lend themselves to listening, dancing and dry cocktails. The thorough biographical notes credit organist James Roseveare as stating: "Her records make you feel like you're at a party where one of the guests takes over the piano and does a few smart and sophisticated songs." And this just about sums up the experience of hearing Ramona & Her Grand Piano.

Hats off to the label The Old Masters for their beautifully restored sound fidelity and to pianist Peter Mintun (of the Carlyle in New York and Mason's in San Francisco) for his very readable liner notes.


Orchesta Gitano
Salsa Gitano
Little Gypsy Productions BA 63098 Salsa

A woman and her bongos

Regular readers of MrLucky know well our frustration with the current state of salsa. The tomato relish served around the world is doing fine but the music is coming out in fits and spurts. We hate to say it but the golden age of salsa has passed. There still are fine examples of Afro-Cuban music around, mostly in a rootsy vein, but the sound that came out of New York in the 1970s until the mid-80s is long gone. While the Cuban roots of the sound are undeniable, it never would have come to fruition without the New York Puerto Rican community. While many of us were listening to Bread's Baby I'm-a Want You and Rick Dee's Disco Duck, Latins around the globe were rediscovering their roots and creating a music that sounds as fresh and timeless today as it did then.

It's always easy to look back and proclaim that the music of the past is better than the music of today, but in this case, it's really true. A singer like Hector LaVoe, who helped define Willie Colon's early sound, was a unique singer and his singing was easily identifiable. Celia Cruz was a star but on her recordings she was another instrument in the band. Today's "stars" like Albita, Marc Anthony and La India are all talented but are marketed in the same way mediocre pop stars are, and while they can provide some pleasure, in the end they keep us longing for the old days. The blame is easy to spread around from the lackluster sogwriting, mechanical arrangements to the sterilized recordings.

Do we sound bitter? Sorry. We're happy with the great Cuban recordings that are coming from labels like Ryko Latino and Round World but we really miss the days of great Latin pop music.

Orquesta Gitano is a Northern Californian outfit that happily has ignored all trends in Latin music and just plays music they love. The arrangements are tight, the songs top-notch and the musicianship suberb. Jazz fans would be as equally happy as Salseros. Vocalists Mario Perez and Eduardo Herrera evoke the greats like Hector LaVoe and Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez without sounding derivitive. The brass section is tight (but not pat) and all the players are given room to blow. Dancing seems inevitable but there's more than enough good music to enjoy if you find yourself chairbound or in a car.

We suppose the thing Orquesta Gitano has that the others lack is a sense of urgency that compels one to dance. The long tracks all build to a meaty crescendo, pushed along by the musicians, strong melodies and clever arrangements.

Forget Albita and all the hype from Miami. This year's recording to beat is Salsa Gitano.



Patrick Williams & His Big Band
EMI-Capitol 72438-21045-2-0 Jazz


Talk about having low expectations! Sintraland is a big band tribute to Frank by the guy who wrote the Bob Newhart theme for TV, featuring a slew of artists we're normally less than enthralled with.  In general, we don't care for "tribute" albums (although the record companies love them) and we've always been lukewarm to the talents of featured soloists Eddie Daniels, Hubert Laws, David Sanborn and Tom Scott. We also think Sinatraland is a pretty stupid name. Well, readers, egg has been placed on our oddly youthful face because Sinatraland is the real thing.

First and foremost, the band really swings like they mean it, mostly reminiscent of bandleader Billy May's way with a baton. Also key are the really swell arrangements that feel like vintage Capitol-era Sinatra while still sounding spare and modern with none of that hokey nostalgia mood that mars so many recordings. Most of the tracks don't even feature a piano.

Tom Scott, who was so popular in the late 1970s with his own particular brand of "happy jazz", plays here with a harder edge and still maintains the melody of I've Got You Under My Skin. The flute for us is only good in doses and our knowledge of Hubert Laws is limited to his fusion recordings but he's so good and appropriate on Sinatraland it almost seems a shame he only gets to solo in You Make Me Feel So Young. Phil Woods is his usual great self on the Billy May-inspired The Song Is You, but the real treat is trombonist Bill Watrous' soloing on All the Way and that's just where he goes. Peter Erskine is probably best known for his arty jazz on his own and with Carla Bley but his smoother than Bombay gin playing on In the Still of the Night earns him a spot with the neo-Rat Pack. Eddie Daniels' clarinet has always struck as a bit too Wurlitzer home organ-like and he seems just like that here, especially on the album closer, Just One of Those Things, but it's not enough to spoil the fun.

Of course the real kudos must go to Patrick Williams who has a mile-long resume but unfortunately will be forever tied to Bob Newhart's 1970s TV show. He's successfully created a fitting tribute and a great collection of tracks that would be welcome, even without the Frank Sinatra link.






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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