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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Vikki Carr
It Must Be Him / The Way of Today
EMI (UK) 724385454424 Pop Vocals

The weather in San Francisco has been unusually wet this winter. Under normal circumstances, our first tan of the season would have taken place by April Fools Day. This year, we got rain, fog, a peek at the sun and then more rain. Between showers, we did have a glorious day, the kind we take for granted in normal years. Readers, we were downright giddy. To celebrate, we hopped in the convertible with the dog and headed north to the beautiful Napa Valley, taking long meandering side roads, all the while we had Vikki Carr's new CD re-issue blaring full blast. It was a complete gas, especially when we sang along: Hello? Hello? / Oh dear God! / It must be him! / but it's not him / And then I die…

When we arrived at our friend's house in Napa, and told her of the merriment of our journey, she advised that that very evening PBS would be broadcasting a Vikki Carr special! This really was going to be a perfect day. Unfortunately, the television special was a major snooze, even with Vikki looking particularly well, if not a bit zaftig. The theme was not classic Vikki Carr music but pop songs of Mexican orgin. Don't get us wrong. You know we love Mexican music, but this was so tepid and Kathie-Lee-Gifford-on-a-Carnival-cruise that our heart sank. Our friend at one point turned to us and said, "You know, this is the kind of music I hate the most."

We couldn't bear to watch the rest of the show, especially when the disco version of Perfida was performed. How we longed for the days when we'd be home after school watching the Merv Griffin Show and we'd scream to our mother in the kitchen, "Hey Mom! That lady who can cry is about to come on!" In case you don't remember or weren't there, along with a strong voice, Vikki Carr was blessed with the ability to cry on cue and would often enliven her performances with real tears. It was magic.

While TV specials may fail us, we still have this great CD of two early albums. The first 12 tracks are from the album It Must Be Him, and along with this seminal title track, there's also plenty more classic 1960s pop, ballads and somewhat Bossa Nova-inspired joy. It's not hip, it's definitely camp and almost all the songs are a hoot.

The rest of the CD is from her Lp The Way of Today!, and while it's good, it's not as much fun as the title would suggest. There are a few nuggets, like Can I Trust You?, I Will Wait for You and I Hear a Rhapsody, but we found ourselves reaching for the forward button with her ballad versions of Nowhere Man and My World is Empty Without You.

It's not a CD you'll want to hear every day. Ms Carr seems to have two modes: on and even more on. She's a big tasteful belter. She's also a lot of fun and when the mood hits, what could be better?


Ricardo Ray
Se Solto "On the Loose"
Allegre SLPA8500 Latin


Many aficionados of Latin music have a strong disdain for the Boogaloo movement of the late 1960s. As we've mentioned before, we just can't stop dancing. One of the most popular figures during the era was Ricardo Ray. Most of his dance recordings featured typical Boogaloo numbers, usually with more clever than average ideas, and perhaps a slightly sloppier execution. Almost all of his albums show hints that Ray had a lot more on the ball than just Boogaloo. We keep buying Ricardo Ray discs as they are re-issued because there's always a surprise or two. Se Solto "On the Loose" shows off Ray's extremes more than most. In addition to his silly but infectious Boogaloo and Shing-a-Ling sound, there's straight-ahead Salsa and unrelated jazz.

The album starts out weakly with Danzon Boogaloo which is a valiant attempt to merge the two genres but ends up sounding like a poor Tijuana Brass track until he forgets the Danzon and does straight Boogaloo. For dancing, it's hard to beat El Señor Embajador and the Mambo-influenced Echando Candela. For camp, Lookie, Lookie takes the cookie (Lookie, lookie, how I do the Boogaloo!) Then, as if you're listening to a completely different disc, there's a sweet George Shearing-style jazz number that has nothing to do with Guaguanco, called Guaguanco in Jazz, and a better than pleasant bop piece, Swedish Schnapps.

For listeners who like things eclectic, this album is incredibly satisfying. We wish more artists could mix the silly with the sublime as Ray does.



Abbey Lincoln
Wholly Earth
Verve 3145595382 Jazz

We haven't listened to much of Abbey Lincoln's work for years. We've found her voice rather metallic and her manner slightly pretentious, but we've always respected her as a serious uncompromising artiste. Her new album, Wholly Earth, is so pleasant that we wonder what we might have missed over the recent years.

Her voice has mellowed considerably. It's a bit worn and tired, but with the right songs and lyrics, it's much more affective than ever, and always in control.

This new album has a nice mellow acoustic Afro-Influ sound. Most of the songs were written by Lincoln and while they have interesting lyrics, the melodies can be very sing-songy and virtually all the tracks go on for three or four minutes too long. It's not unbearable, by any means, but with stronger melodies and tighter arrangements, the album would have been better. Along with Lincoln's vocals, the album works thanks to quirky arrangements, interesting instrumentation like the marimba, and a general level of taste not found in most new music.

The opening track, And It's Supposed to Be Love, would be a hit if it were sung by some young poet-Lolita like Jewel or Tori Amos. It's the most accessible thing on the disc and its pop sensibility would fit right at home with the new troubadours. Along with her original pieces, Lincoln does Midnight Sun quite well. She also tackles If I Only Had a Brain, but it really suffers from lasting too long. Most of the songs have thoughtful, somewhat spiritual lyrics that are a bit new-agey, but never too sweet or insipid.

While not a rave, we can say spending an hour or so with Abbey Lincoln on this new disc is a very pleasant thing to do.

BossaCucaNova
Revisited Classics
Six Degrees 6570361010-2 Brazil/Pop

Bossa Nova and Samba revivals have been brewing for years. The "real thing" has been with us all along but a lot of DJs have taken the basic Brazilian beats and added them to various dance tracks. Compilations like Bossa Brava and Mambo Inn have succeeded to various degrees and the Japanese group United Future Organization has been toying with the Brazilian sound all along. What's common among all these non-Brazilian musicians is that they take the beat and accentuate it, often making it a bit edgier.

Now comes the first reconstruction from Brazil. They've taken some classic and obscure original tracks and rather than beef up the Brazilian beat, they get rid of it altogether and add various hip-hop drum machine beats. Expecting flashes of brilliance, we have to admit we were very disappointed at first. The whole spirit of Bossa Nova is the gentle stripped-down Samba beat. That spirit is gone. Instead the result is not great but it's interesting and sometimes fun. Some songs work better than others. Os Cariocas' version of Berimbau is a hoot, as is Chris Delanno's Se Todos Fossem (Someone to Light Up My Life.) Others are just plain mediocre.

If you're looking for gentle music to sway like the palms or intense drumming to practice for Carnival, forget it. If you're after pleasant Pop music with better-then-average melodies, and you can put aside all notions of what Brazilian music is, you'll probably enjoy this disc.

Why We Dig Ethel Merman

We often have tried to remember the first time we encountered Ethel Merman, but it seems as if she's always been there. Whether it was on That Girl or as Lola Lasagne on Batman, we have to admit that the Merm has always held a strange fascination for us. At first, the appeal was strictly camp. When she would guest star on TV variety shows in the 1970s, she seemd so out of place next to the mellow James Taylors or the soulful Arethas of the time.

That huge warbling voice, the grand this-is-me-take-it-or-leave-it attitude and her larger-than-life presence were like no one else. There wasn't a lot of subtlety in her voice. It was a direct hit, in the same manner as Billy Eckstine or Celia Cruz. It was also eager to please, and this is probably the defining difference between pre- and post-1970s music. Once youth culture had thouroughly taken over, it wasn't particularly cool to act as if you were there to please the crowd. But as we've learned from after-school TV specials, the coolest thing of all is to be yourself. On these terms, Ethel was the coolest.

Her voice was always big, but in her earliest recordings, it's easy to see why Cole Porter declared her his singer of choice. The warble isn't there but the volume and swing are. By the end of her career, the warble was as much a part of her personality as the volume.

Many can't get beyond the vibrato and big personality, but our suggestion is that you purchase a good compilation, like There's No Business Like Show Business (Razor & Tie RE2144-2) or the original cast album to Gypsy (Columbia CK 32607), and just enjoy the power. At worst, with the compilation, you'll have a funny new camp record to add to your collection. With Gypsy, you'll own a piece of American Musical history. At best, just maybe, you'll "get" the Ethel Merman experience.

We admit that on some of the slower ballads, things aren't always the roller coaster ride of Everything's Coming Up Roses or I Got Rhythm, but once in a while, she nails it, like on Small World from Gypsy. There's an odd collection, Mighty Merman (Pearls 3036100032), that features Ethel singing Ukelele Lady in an entirely sweet voice that she rarely used and it's nothing short of charming. This is especially odd considering the song.

For us, the ultimate appeal of Ethel Merman is the idea of a short little powerhouse of a woman standing on a stage, belting 'em out as she sees fit, with no bull and no frills, and no concern for contemporary trends. She'd make exactly the same statement with elaborate scenery, full orchestra and a cast of thousands as she would with just a piano on a bare stage. Since she seems to be almost totally unaware that the humor in her presentation might take her on some level to the realm of kitcsh. After you've been listening to the Merm for awhile, you get the feeling that not "getting" her is your problem, not hers.

 

 



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