A Guide to The Wonderful Music of Vegas
(Click a Link to go to the required section)
FRANKIE SUMATRAíS   TOP 20 MODERN SWING/LOUNGE ACTS

1.

LOVE JONES
Love Jones
Doug Liman's ultrahip movie "Swingers" helped launch Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's career and kick started the neo-swing scene stateside. Another lesser known L.A. act appeared on the soundtrack album: the very wonderful Love Jones.

This quirky quintet first attracted attention as a witty, musically literate near-cabaret act plying their trade at various L.A.clubs in the early 90's. Fusing Rat Pack era crooning with Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 style bossa nova,Stax/Motown soul shadings with smooth doo wop style vocal harmonies Love Jones had the wit and panache to integrate the most extreme musical styles, including punk influences, into their kitsch worldview.

Their 1993 debut album "Here's to the Losers" is possibly the frothiest, lightest, wittiest, most charming post modern pop confection ever committed to record. Packed full of feelgood summer grooves and dripping with irony "Here's to the Losers" has so many shoulda been hits from the sly bossa of "Bacchus Girl" to the magnificent title track. Catchy as velcro this LP is the perfect soundtrack to any hip poolside party, beach barbecue or swinging soiree.

Their 1995 sophomore album "Powerful Pain Relief" proved to be their last release. It seems record company execs had decided to repackage the band as a bland pop soul combo and as a result much of their wonderful eclecticism had been sacrificed at the alter of misguided commercial imperative. Trading in their unique idiosyncratic charm for some sharp suits and a pop makeover was a bad move. There are a few standout tracks including the bittersweet title track but most of the magic had gone and the band split up shortly thereafter.

The Jones gang. Gone but not forgotten. If Heaven has a house band I'm hoping they sound like Love Jones.

Recommended Love Jones
(Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Here's to the Losers" LP ***** (5 stars) Zoo/BMG 1993. Love Jones' masterpiece.
One of my top 10 albums of all time. Almost every track's a winner. Now deleted it's a rarity well worth tracking down.
"Powerful Pain Relief" LP *** (3 stars) Zoo/BMG 1995 Not a patch on "HTTL" but still worth searching for. Standout tracks include the title track, "Stars" and "World of Summer". The rest is a bit patchy.
"Whiskey, the Moon and Me" **** (4 stars) on "Living Lounge: The Fabulous Sounds of Now" compilation LP Continuum Records 1995. A snaky samba style song which quotes the theme from Star Trek in the bridge. Pop music this sexy, funny, cool and clever is very hard to find.

2.

THE YALLOPPIN' HOUNDS
The Yalloppin' Hounds

The Hounds debut LP ďGhetto Swing ExtremeĒ was an ďon specĒ purchase from the good people at CD Now. All I knew about these cats was they were a New York City combo who incorporated diverse musical influences into their uniquely swinging repertoire.
And what a spicy gumbo "Ghetto Swing Extreme" proved to be. The Hounds take a Cab Calloway/Slim Gaillard swing template and add a touch of Duke Ellingtonís hard swinging jazz style and garnish the mix with some hip-hop flavour. Rap is after all the logical development of swings jive talkiní pioneers. Calloway and these zoot suited cats were definitely the prototype for for todayís rap superstars. Listen to Ella Mae Morse and Freddie Slackís jive on their old school gem "House of Blue Lights" and youíll hear hipster swing talk in itís infancy, the proud legacy of which was later celebrated by the uniquely eloquent Lord Buckley. Well G Clef tha Mad Komposa keeps that beatnik vibe alive in "Ghetto Swing Extreme" fusing hip modern street swing with his Louis Armstrong style scats and Queen Estherís Ella Fitzgerald influenced vocals. Stand out tracks are the G Clef and Queen Esther call and response classic & "Daddy Make It Feel Good" and "We" both of which showcase Herman Xís tenor saxaphone to great effect. "Oops My Bad" and "You Ainít Sh**" feature the Hounds rapping over swing beats, traditional swing music providing a perversely fitting backdrop to the humourous urban coloquialisms of the vocalists raps.
I recently had the good fortune to see Yalloppin Hounds live at their favourite NYC haunt Swing 46. A truly excellent live band who delivered two quality hour long swinging sets to an appreciative audience of swing aficionados and novices alike

Recommended Yalloppin' Hounds (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Ghetto Swing Extreme" LP **** (4 stars) Yalloppin' Entertainment 1999.
The Houndsí only currently available album released in 1999 on their own label. Highly recommended.
"New Yalloppin' City" LP ***** (5 stars) Yalloppin' Entertainment 2001 Excellent follow up to "GSE". There have been a few personnel changes since the first album but G Klef the Mad Komposa is still firmly at the controls. Jeremy Bacon on piano, Herman X on tenor sax and Lord Sledge guesting on two tracks return from the first outing but the good news is the new Yalloppin' Hounds are the equals of the old Hounds. "Homegirl Hound" Vickie Natalie takes over the female vocal duties from Queen Esther and if her voice doesn't quite have the same power as her predecessor it she more than compensates with her uniquely soulful qualities. A welcome addition to the band for sure. Vickie's beautiful understated vocal on G Klef's poignant tribute to a departed friend "Sun Ray" contributes to perhaps the most perfectly realised Hounds song yet. The opening track "Romantic Thugz" is a neat summation of the Hounds' hip street swing philosophy. Tough but tender this song would be a hit single in a well ordered world where quality music gets in the charts. We can but dream! Lord Sledge's confident vocals are as assured as any superstar rapper and if you imagine Dr.Dre jamming with the Count Basie Orchestra you get the picture. The band are smokin' on this cut and Herman X's tenor sax works it's magic once more. A lovely fluid arrangement which is tougher than a Bronx street hood but tender and expressive like midnight in Manhattan. Harlem Apollo meets the Rainbow Room.
And that's just the first two songs. Suffice to say the rest of the album maintains the high standard. A diverse selection of warm, romantic ballads, live-sounding swing jams and witty street-swing numbers with hip-hop style raps are unified by superb musicianship throughout. "Thugbrat" is a great number and a devastating portrait of bored rich kids who crave the outlaw status conferred by hanging out with street hoods. "Swing Free Rider", "Jacquet, Where's Your Jacket?" and "Get Out of that Hole" sound like live show favourites, straight-ahead fun swing work-outs aimed at the dancefloor. "Letting Go" and "Look for Love" also showcase Vickie's soulful vocals and display a tender side.
All in all a great album and a worthy follow up to the superb "GSE". It's time the world switched on to the "Yalloppin' Hounds." Bands of this quality are hard to find but too good to miss.

3.

THE RAY GELATO GIANTS
The Ray Gelato Giants

"Close your eyes and imagine the scene : the time is the golden 1950's era of great music and great entertainment. The place is Las Vegas, Nevada. You're new in town, just driving around, checking out what's hot tonite. The sounds you hear coming out of the Desert Inn, the Sahara, the Sands, and the other casino lounges as you cruise past in the warm nite are the sounds of Louis Prima & Keely Smith, Dean Martin, The Treniers, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. If only you could have been there, if only you could have heard that great music, felt that excitement, tasted that electric atmosphere"
So goes the introductory blurb on the Ray Gelato Giants website. Itís an enticing appetiser for the main course of the Giantsí swinging music and one which raises expectations to a very high level indeed. But donít worry these guys can deliver. This combo swings like Sam Butera and the Witnesses, Louis Primaís legendary backing group, in their prime. Check out the superlative "The Men From Uncle" LP where Ray and the guys cover Prima favourite "Angelina/Zooma Zooma", Louis Jordanís swinging "Chicky Mo" and others with great verve. Also included is an excellent swing version of Steely Dan maestro Donald Fagenís "Walk Between the Raindrops". As a big Dan fan itís great to hear this track from Fagenís solo masterpiece "The Nightfly" given a totally sympathetic swing arrangement. Nice work. Also on this LP is "Tu Vuo Fa LíAmericano", a huge favourite at Vegas and used by Levi on one of their commercials. Loads of people ask me "who does "Americano"?." Well now you know! It was originally sung by Sophia Loren in the movie "It Started in Naples" and more recently Matt Damon and Jude Law murdered it in "The Talented Mr.Ripley." The Brian Setzer (ex Stray Cats) Orchestra also recorded a rockiní version on their recent album "Vavoom."
The album also features some quality Gelato original numbers too.
Another Ray Gelato LP worth checking out is the excellent "Live in Italy" which showcases the Giants live sound. Like many swing bands this is their true forte and the LP is reminiscent in feel to the Louis Prima/Sam Butera and the Witnesses classic live set "The Wildest Show in Tahoe."

Recommended Ray Gelato & The Giants (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"The Men from Uncle" LP **** (4 stars) Double Scoop Records 1998. The Giantsí swinging LP includes the classic "Tu Vuo Fa LíAmericano" and the excellent "Walk Between the Raindrops", "Chicky Mo" and more.

"Live in Italy" LP **** (4 stars) Double Scoop Records 2000. Great live LP with covers of "Just a Gigolo/I ainít got Nobody", "Buona Sera", "Oh Marie" plus "Americano" and some excellent Giantsí originals.

4.

H.B. RADKE & THE JET CITY SWINGERS
HB Radke & the Jet City Swingers
Seattle is somewhere Iíd usually connected with grunge music, coffee shops and the wonderful "Frasier" t.v.show. Itís not somewhere I associated with lounge or swing music. I must admit I had never heard of this Seattle based septet until I saw their album "HB Radke & The Jet City Swingers Live!" advertised in the swing section of Hepcat Records fine internet catalogue. Thinking this could be right up my alley I ordered a copy more in hope than expectation that Iíd discovered another super swinging stateside combo. Well I can tell you the LP did not disappoint. Many speculative purchases fail to hit the spot but this one scored a resounding bullseye! HB Radke and the JCS are for the cocktail culture cognoscenti. Lounge lizards par excellence. Their debut LP includes a great version of Bacharachís "Iíll Never Fall in Love Again" and the definitive version of the John Denver penned "Iím Leaving on a Jet Plane" which was such a big hit for Peter, Paul and Mary. Both these songs are given a postmodern swing spin and end up sounding ultrahip rather than cheesy. In fact Iíve been playing both songs at Vegas for some time now and I bet you guys didnít know who these versions were by. HB Radke can croon and if heís not quite in the Chairman of the Boardís class well who the hell is? HB can carry a song though and his covers of such classics as "Iíve Got You Under My Skin", "I Get a Kick Out of You" and the excellent occult medley of "Witchcraft"/"Theme from Bewitched"/"That Old Black Magic" stand comparison with most. The arrangements and playing are tight and this band swings most righteously. They segue from Rat Pack material to Louis Prima swing, Bacharach easy into quality original material efforlessly ("Baby Skye" is a really cool original song and only one of a few excellent HB penned tunes on the LP). The band also inject a lot of humour, wit and panache into the material and the end result is a great cocktail party record. Iím looking forward to hearing a lot more from these cats.

Recommended HB Radke & The Jet City Swingers

"Live!" LP **** (4 stars) Pony Boy Records 1998. A great mix of covers and originals all delivered with wit, panache, assured musicianship and quality crooning. Check out this LP for "Leaving on a Jet Plane" in particular. The best version around!

5.

DAVE'S TRUE STORY
Dave's True Story

DTS are ex author and playwright, musical maestro Dave Cauter and beguiling chanteuse Kelly Flint, an NYC duo who are mainstays of the Big Appleís cult underground neo-lounge scene. Hipsters, bohemians and lounge lizards can catch Daveís True Story playing regularly at clubs like The Living Room in the East Village, The Cooler in the meat-packing district and the wonderfully seedy Stinger Club in Brooklyn. Let me tell you cats I checked out the Stinger recently and it was like a nightclub scene straight out of a David Lynch movie. The perfect backdrop for DTSís cool cocktail of smooth melodies and bittersweet lyrics. Daveís tunes have a retro feel, steeped in old world beauty. Luscious guitar strums and picks, horn stabs, tinkling piano keys, spare snare and lightly brushed hi-hat complimented by some exotic bongo action. Complimenting the boho jazz club vibe of the music DTSís lyrics are literate, wordy and ironic, evoking the heyday of bohemia but with a hip postmodern twist.
DTSís debut LP "Sex Without Bodies" includes the self Ėpenned title trackís witty critique of virtual sex, an excellent lounge version of "Walk on the Wild Side" and cool originals like "Rue de Lappe", "Daddy O" and much more.
Their second LP "Unauthorized" is a little slicker production wise but the songs arenít quite so memorable. The influence of Donald Fagen can be heard here but as with their debut album DTSís charm lies in the diversity of their inspirations. A solid grounding in jazz is evident but so is a love of folk, country etc. and the whole package is served up with a modern lounge twist. Nice!

Recommended Daveís True Story
(Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)
"Dave's True Story" ***** (5 stars) record company unknown release date unknown
Jeff at DTS management sent me a copy of the Dave's True Story's debut album. All he said was it's considered by many to be their best. I have no idea if this record is still commercially available although I woud guess from the rudimentary "bootleg" style packaging that it's not. I suspect this was a limited edition release financed, recorded, pressed and distributed by the DTS themselves. In fact the only reliable information I have on this release is the music itself. But what music.
The album opens with a frenetic burst of jazz sax. Straight away we're pitched into a cinematic milieu. A jazz noir soundtrack redolent of smoky nightclubs and sultry sirens. Then Kelly Flint's vocals. Conspiratorially cool but streetwise and sexy (as any fatally flawed femme fatale should be) she narrates the tale of the crazy chick in the "Sequined mermaid dress." Accompanied by a lightly brushed snare and a plaintive sax this tough but tender torch singer is our tour guide to DTS's noirish landscape. David Lynch meets Raymond Chandler. Julie London gets namechecked in "Another Hit" and the divine Miss London is clearly an influence. Like her illustrious predecessor Kelly has the playfully disdainful cynicism and world weary disregard designed to tantalise and torture the pathetic male of the species. In fact on the amazing "Nadine" Kelly abandons men altogether and concentrates her gaze on the superior sex. The way she teases the last ounce of sensuality from the lyric "we could lie on the beach skin to skin and make love while the tide sucks us in" is reminiscent of a snake hypnotising it's prey. but what a beguiling snake! "Sommes Bleues" is a delightfuly witty bilingual diversion but the recurring theme of this set is more "malaise" than "joie de vivre." Malady d'amour is the lietmotiv. Love isn't singing acapella here. It's constantly accompanied by danger, fascination, obsession, disappointment and even death. However the noirish mood is leavened by a wonderful sense of humour, the mordant wit offset by a self-deprecating charm. Tribute must also be paid to Dave Cantor's masterful songwriting and musicianship. At times the stately pace, spare production, langorous mood and crystalline vocals are reminiscent of the work of the amazing jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson or the hypnotic folk noir of Patricia Barber. However DTS have a playful attitude and humour which sets them apart from the serious jazz stylists and places them more comfortably in the "lounge" camp. "Dave's True Story" is a wonderful album from a wonderful band.

"Sex Without Bodies" LP **** (4 stars) Chesky Records 1998. Clever, warm, witty eulogies to love, sex and swing. Melodic and inventive music for hipsters.
"UnauthorizedĒ LP *** (3 stars) Chesky Records 1999. "Melodies that make your Manhattan taste sweeter and lyrics that hold out the right bitter edge" Atomic Magazine review. Not quite as inspired a set as "SWB" but lots of pleasurable cuts nonetheless.

6.

COCKTAIL ANGST
Cocktail Angst

"Our Big Top Parade" Cocktail Angstís second album was a speculative purchase from the good people at Hepcat Records in the U.S. Iíd heard word on the grapevine from DTSís management that Cocktail Angst were another NYC combo creating a stir on the neo-lounge circuit. And believe me the LP didnít disappoint. Have you ever heard that really cool Peggy Lee track "Is That All There Is?", later covered by Christina of Ze Records fame? If you have youíll know what I mean. If you havenít think of Peggy Lee at her most world weary and exotic, add a touch of psychedelia, mordant wit and crank the urbane sophistication level up to the max. Well Cocktail Angst are ploughing this exact furrow. Musically weíre talking perky mambos, sambas, bossas and exotica but the deliciously barbed lyrics give the tunes an eerie almost sinister spin. "Our Big Top Parade" is full of delightful originals like "Samba De Angst", "Mindless", "Good Luck Charm" and "Last Tango in Vegas". "Good Luck Charm"ís lyric is as evocative an homage to the lure of Vegas as any in the canon of popular song. "Last Tango in Vegas" bemoans the conversion of Nevadaís magnificently seedy oasis into a family theme park for trailer trash: "What have they done to Bugsyís town?" If youíve seen the God awful "Las Vegas Uncovered" on Sky t.v. youíll identify with Cocktail Angstís yearning for decadent past glories. Vegas the new Ibiza? Lager louts and Shirley and Tracey from accounts "larging it" at the the Luxorís Ra night club to Brandon Block and co? Is this progress from the legendary Rat Pack treading the boards at the Sands? Didnít think so!

Recommended Cocktail Angst
(Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Cocktail Angst" LP **** (4 stars) Hepcat Records 1998. I finally got a copy of Cocktail Angst's debut LP. Believe me it was worth the wait. Opening track "Muy Loco Psycho Mambo" is a kitsch Latin/lounge/exotica workout, the perfect soundtrack for a swinging soiree at any self-respecting hipster's pad. Then we're into the risque but hilarious "Little Red Wagon" where beguiling chanteuse Toby Williams spells out in graphic terms how she's planning payback for a partner's presumed infidelity. It's safe to assume that when Toby offers to fix the object of her ire's "little red wagon" she's not proposing to carry out essential maintenance. "I Hate Parades" is Cocktail Angst at their ethereal, dreamy best. A deliciously spooky little number with an other worldly ambience like a nightmare scene from a surrealist movie. The parade in question is a feverish, hallucinatory procession vividly portrayed by the giddy motion of the music. Toby's antipathy to circus parades and "psychotic and disturbing clowns" is all too believable as she concludes her tirade with the wonderfully peremptory command "Will somebody get me a drink?" Toby plays the temperamental diva role to the hilt and is clearly having great fun on this record as are the rest of the band. Subtle playing throughout by all is surely a testament to talents honed in the vibrant New York Jazz scene. Like so many NYC bands great musicianship is a given and Toby Williams confident vocals, great personality and rapier wit give Cocktail Angst the edge over most "retro" stylists. Their sound is simultaneously an affectionate tribute to the greats of the past AND ultramodern. Cocktail Angst: the retro sound of the future.

"Our Big Top Parade" LP ***** (5 stars) Hepcat Records 2001. Wonderfully evocative, sinister, literate lounge music for aficionados..

 

7.

PARIS COMBO
Paris Combo
This superb Parisian quintet serve up an eclectic mix of hot and cool jazz, flamenco, a touch of cabaret, gypsy music, graceful guitar work reminiscent of Django Reinhardt, Spanish and Italian influences, an exotic hint of oriental and Middle Eastern mystique all played with the vitality of modern swing. Paris Comboís music is evocative of langorous evenings in the smoky jazz clubs of 1950ís Montemarte or Pigalle. However Paris Comboís music isnít nostalgic. Itís original and seductive with intelligence, irony, a subtle sense of humour and above all exquisite taste. Chanteuse Belle du Berry is the latest in a long line of Gallic femme fatales operating in the chanson tradition. Her voice is exquisitely sultry and sensual and she is equally capable of coquettish cabaret as divine divadom. Please note Paris Combo sing in their native French. There are no concessions made to English-speaking audiences. Acoustic guitarist Potzi is Django Reinhardt reincarnated whilst bassist Mano is clearly a Latin jazz aficionado. Trumpeter David Lewis and drummer Francois-Francois complete the musically adept line-up. Paris Comboís musicianship is awe-inspiring, the vocals enchanting and the combination of their disparate talents and influences produces a wonderfully entertaining and joyously celebratory musical mix.
(BTW thanks to Claudia from BBVD's office for switching me on to this band!)

Recommended Paris Combo (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Paris Combo" LP **** (4 stars) Tinder Records 1998. Paris Comboís American debut album is a wonderfully eclectic and assured work. These multi-talented jazz disciples prove that fusion can be fun. The closest comparison is a Gallic Squirrel Nut Zippers but Paris Comboís musicianship places them in a higher order of accomplishment altogether.
"Living Room " LP ***** (5 stars) Tinder Records 2000. An incredible album. The upbeat pop-friendly cabaret style title track opens the LP but only hints at the wonders to come. "Terrien díeau douce" is a a very hip, hot, jazz groove and "Senor" is a gentle samba. Track 4 "Homeron" is a tight jazz number with an insistent rhythm which breaks down into a near drum and bass groove with Belle du Barry improvising her vocal on top of the wonderfully insistent beat. There are so many diverse pleasures here itís impossible to descibe. The last track the wittily titled "Mobilíhomme" is evocative of the Middle East. The percussion section sounds like it was dragged into the recording studio from a market square in Marrakech. Du Barryís vocal is like a bright thread woven through an Algerian tapestry. Itís a dynamic and dramatic finale to an amazing album by one of Europeís most astonishingly imaginative bands.

8.

BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

These swinging Californian cats need no introduction to the Vegas cognoscenti after their brilliant performance at Vegas west coast's first birthday party at the Barrowlands. Scotty Morris and co. started out their musical careers in the L.A. punk scene before gravitating towards the embryonic swing scene. Bringing much of the energy and attitude of punk to the "retro" swing movement BBVD quickly established themselves as the rightful heirs to legendary swingers of the past like Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan. Their penchant for stylish zoot suits, wing-tips, fedoras and vintage ties gave them charismatic image which was simultaneously retro and cutting edge. BBVD's rehabilitation of the previously moribund swing genre was to prove highly influential. Doug Liman captured the energy of the band's early career residency at L.A.'s legendary Derby club in his cult hipster movie "Swingers." The rest, as they say, is history.Coast to coast sell out tours, countless t.v. appearances, platinum albums, the 1999 Super Bowl half-time show and a hard won reputation as one of the most entertaining live bands in the world has established BBVD as the prime movers in the swing revival world-wide. BBVD made their Scottish debut at "Vegas" at the Barrowlands in July 2001. What can I say? 1100 swingers were treated to a wonderful show from one of the tightest, most charismatic and entertaining bands in the world today. Not only one of the best bands around but also one of the nicest. The guys hung around after the show socialising with fans and generally having a great time. Not surprisingly they were desperate to come back to Scotland and in January 2002 made their Edinburgh debut at the Liquid Room. Once again a terrific show from an amazing band with some great swing dancers in the house. In fact Dirk (bass) told me the "Vegas" crowd reminded him of the crowd at "The Derby" in L.A. back in the early days of the swing revival stateside. High praise indeed! Can't wait for their next visit.

Recommended Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Big Bad Voodoo Daddy 1st" LP ***1/2 (3.5 stars) Big Bad Records 1994.
BBVD's debut on their own independant label is a raw, live-sounding recording featuring a couple of tracks which were reworked for their major label debut album of the same name. Lots of energy and potential but the band are clearly still perfecting their craft.
"Big Bad Voodoo Daddy" LP ***** (5 stars) Coolsville/Interscope Records 1998.
BBVD's major label debut is probably the hardest swinging, most dynamic, energetic,superbly produced and consistently excellent album released by any of the neo-swing acts. Packed full of excellent songs from "Swingers" anthem "You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)" to the dynamic "Go Daddy O", a storming cover of "Minnie the Moocher" to the fun set closer "So Long-Farewell-Goodbye" this is a truly brilliant album.
"This Beautiful Life" LP **** (4 stars) Coolsville/Interscope Records 1999.
Excellent follow up to "BBVD" with a wider range of styles and moods than the straight ahead swing of it's predecessor.Their funky, Latin-tinged version of The Jungle Book song "I Wanna Be Like You" is BBVD at their most fun and energetic, a solid gold party anthem. "Big and Bad" and "Big Time Operator" are classic swinging tunes in the BBVD tradition but "Sleep Tight" and "Still in Love With You" reveal a tender side. The album segues effortlessly from swing to Latin to jazz and back. A new BBVD album is expected soon and is highly anticipated.

9.

ROYAL CROWN REVUE
RoyalCrown Revue

Royal Crown Revue, the self-styled "Kings of Gangster Bop" are probably the originators of the stateside swing renaissance. Like BBVD, RCR grew out of the L.A. punk scene. Band leader and vocalist Eddie Nichols put RCR together in 1989 inspired by the stylish clothes and music of the 40's and 50's and the noir gangster fiction of writers like Dashell Hammet, James McCain and Raymond Chandler. Musically RCR are heavily influenced by Louis Prima and Sam Butera and the Witnesses. Royal Crown Revue are undoubtedly one of the most uncompromising of the neo-swing bands. Their music has a harder edge than most and they clearly believe in authenticity. Like BBVD their retro influences are merely the inspiration for a dynamic ultra modern swing sound. RCR meticulously recreate classic American style with zoot suits, fedoras and wing tips de rigeur. The band appeared in the Jim Carrey flick "The Mask" playing one of their most popular songs "Hey Pachucho" in the nightclub scene. Their recorded output is showing signs of progression from the hardboiled swing which has become their trademark and their latest album "Walk on Fire" is perhaps their most varied and innovative yet.

Recommended Royal Crown Revue (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Kings of Gangster Bop" Unrated BYO Records 1991.
Don't have this very early RCR album so I can't rate it. If and when I get a copy I'll review it.
"Mugzy's Move" LP **** (4 stars) WEA Records 1995.
Excellent album featuring stand- out tracks "Hey Pachucho" and "Zip Gun Bop" plus a good version of Bobby Darin's classic "Beyond the Sea." The mood is hard boiled swing effortlessly evoking a bygone era of speakeasies and gangsters.
"Contender" **** (4 stars) WEA Records 1998.
Immaculately performed,slickly conceived, "The Contender" plays the listener like the proverbial, willing Vegas sucker, slipping in some smoky jazz when it's least expected ("Big Boss Lee", "Everybody knows you're Crazy"); re-working standards a la Bobby Darin and Dizzy Gillespie ("Stormy Weather", "Salt Peanuts") and even venturing into ethnic grooves at the drop of a fedora ("Morning Light" and the excellent "Port Au Prince").
"Walk on Fire" LP **** (4 stars) Tinder Records 1999.
Stand-out tracks include the atmospheric title track and the dynamic "Watts Local". Like "The Contender" "WOF" sees RCR continue to explore more diverse musical directions than their earlier work.

10.

LAVAY SMITH & HER RED HOT SKILLET LICKERS
Lavay Smith

Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers are pioneers of the San Francisco swing revival. Formed way back in 1989 the band are much more than flag bearers for the neo-swing revival. They are a much respected combo in jazz circles and feature some wonderful musicians of immaculate pedigree. Veteran saxophonist Bill Stewart's father played with Cab Calloway's band and he himself has played with legends like Lionel Hampton and Big Joe Turner. Trumpeter Allen Smith has gigged with Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan and the Chairman of the Board himself. Lavay may be the pin-up girl of the neo-swing scene but don't worry this girl can really sing. Her influences are the great jazz and blues singers: Billie Holliday, Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Esther Phillips, Ruth Brown and Ella Mae Morse are some of the names which come to mind and Lavay really can hold her own in such distinguished company. Musically the band have a really warm sound fusing swing, blues and jazz with early R "n" B and even hot New Orleans jazz. This is sophisticated lounge music par excellence. The perfect soundtrack for cocktails, dancing and romancing.
I had the good fortune to see this superb band play live at one of their regular haunts "The Top of the Mark" in San Francisco a while back. Situated at the top of the Mark Hopkins' Hotel the club has a great view of the S.F.skyline and a killer cocktail menu. My wallet still hasn't recovered from the damage inflicted by more martinis than I care to remember and an ill-advised bottle of champagne but the financial loss was well and truly offset by the wonderful show from San Francisco's finest Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.

Recommended Lavay Smith (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"One Hour Mama" **** (4 stars) Fat Note Records.
The opening track on Lavay's debut album is a terrific version of Little Esther Phillips' swinging 1959 hit "Oo Poppa Do." Sassy and sexy Lavay sounds every inch the heir to Ruth Brown's heritage of swinging chicks with attitude. In fact the Skillet Lickers sound is often reminiscent of an even earlier form of jazz and rhythm and blues. Names like Bessie Smith spring to mind. This is the sort of Basin Street Blues and jazz you might expect to hear coming out of a New Orleans bordello in the 1920's. More recent inpsirations are Billie Holliday and Dinah Washington. Lavay's soulful, bluesy voice is the perfect vehicle for conveying these swinging tales of strong women and not so strong men. Songs like "Walk Right In, Walk Right Out" (also covered by Royal Crown Revue on "Mugzy's Move") and the Ida Cox classic "One Hour Mama" are raunchy, gritty numbers in which the vocalist outlines in graphic detail the high expectations of the female of the species and the generally low performance of the male when it comes to "matters of good lovin'." Throughout this inspired set of covers the playing from the Skillet Lickers is uniformly superb. Then again these guys are the real deal. Long time jazz and blues veterans all with thoroughbred pedigrees these guys provide Lavay with the kind of backing any swinging diva would kill for. Virtuoso solos are effortlessly woven into the sophisticated fabric of arrangements which complement Lavay's voice perfectly. The music always allows her the space to showcase her exquisite vocals yet isn't afraid to occupy the foreground when required. An excellent album which is likely to appeal to swing fans, jazz fans, blues fans, lounge fans and indeed anyone who loves great music.

"Everybody's Talkin Bout Miss T" LP **** (4 stars) Fat Note Records 2000.
A very consistent work with strong songs throughout featuring superlative musicianship and, of course, Lavay's strong, sultry vocals. Lavay smoulders through some hot, risque material like "The Busy Woman's Blues", the sexy title track and "Big Fine Daddy." "I Want a Little Boy" sounds like Ruth Brown at her most sassy. There isn't a weak track on the album and it even includes a special bonus track, a hot New Orleans style rendition of "Winter Wonderland" which appeared on Atomic Magazine's excellent Christmas sampler album. The band are on top form and the vibe is 30's and 40's with a sassy post-modern lyrical twist. Musical influences include Basie, Ellington, Louis Jordan and early R "n" B like Johnny Otis. The packaging is superb too.

11.

BIG KAHUNA & THE COPA CAT PACK
Big Kahuna & The Copa Cat Pack

What can I say about this great band? Well I could start telling you how these cats swing most righteously. I could tell you all about their superb musicianship, wonderful arrangements and quality crooning. I could tell you how effortlessly Big Kahuna (Matt Catingub) and his cats fuse the irresistable dynamics and musicianship of a top notch big band swing outfit of the 40's with the hard driving energy of the best of the neo-swing movement. But in the end I guess all you really need to say about these guys is that they are one of the most fun bands around. Most of the band hail from San Francisco but alto saxophonist and bandleader Big Kahuna comes from Hawaii and conducts the Honolulu Symphony Pops Orchestra in addition to helming this outfit. Needless to say the Copa Cat Pack's sound is drenched in the exotic island sounds of the 50th state of the union. Hawaiian swing is a genre these guys have pretty much created themselves and an intoxicating cocktail it is too. "Hapa-haole" Hawaiian pop and exotic "Aloha spirit" fuses with big band jazz and new jump swing to form a great new hybrid of danceable swing music. So get those Hawaiian shirts on, have a barbecue on the beach and organise a limbo competition to the swinging sounds of Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack.

Recommended Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack (Click on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)

"Hawaiian Swing" LP ****(4 stars) Concord Jazz 1999.
Great fun debut from BK & the CCP. The set kicks off with a storming version of the old Rosemary Clooney song "Come on-a-My House." I enjoy Rosemary Clooney as much as the next swinger but I don't remember the original jumping out of the speakers with this much energy. "Don't Be That Way/Stompin' At The Savoy" is a great medley with a nice duet between Matt and Linda Harmon. Matt's vocals are not the strongest but he has a distinctive voice with lots of personality and he's certainly a more than passable crooner. I really enjoyed Matt's original "In The Copa Room" which is a tribute to the Las Vegas lounges in the heyday of Sinatra and co. The album is a strong combination of quality covers and inspired originals. Highly recommended.
"Shake Those Hula Hips" LP **** (4 stars) Concord Jazz 2001.
A great follow up to "Hawaiian Swing" which features a guest vocal appearance by Matt's heroine Rosemary Clooney. The musicianship remains of a very high standard and there are some excellent covers of swinging' songs like "Fever" , "Hawaii Five-0", "Tequila", "I Dream of Jeannie", "In The Mood" etc. "Princess Poo-Poo-ly has Plenty Papaya" is a great fun song and "Hey Baby! (Shake Those Hula Hips)" is a cool original from Matt. This is a great out and out party record.

12.

THE GOOD FELLAS
The Good Fellas

The Good Fellas are a superb swinging combo from Italy. Led by charismatic bandleader Lucky Luciano these guys first came to attention in 1997 backing Ray Gelato on "Gangsters of Swing." The Bologna-based swingers have recently brought out their debut cd "Salute!",a mix of Italian swing numbers and swing classics. The main influences are Louis Prima and Sam Butera and the Witnesses. The Good Fellas certainly emulate the sounds of these dynamite Vegas swing combos but the Italian language vocals and authentic Italian influences give their sound an interesting new dimension.

Recommended Good Fellas

"Salute!" LP ***1/2 (3 1/2 stars) 2001.
Excellent debut from this swinging Italian combo. Nice mix of swing standards and indiginous Italian sounds. "Ehi, Cupari" is great fun. "Oh Babe, Jump,Jive and Wail" features a guest vocal appearance by Ray Gelato. The band look great in the photos on the cd. They look like the cast from a Martin Scorcese movie. Real Italian mafiosa style! Can't wait to hear more from these guys.

13.

JET SET SIX
Jet Set Six

The Jet Set Six A great fun band from New York City. Their exuberant sound is reminiscent of the ironic pop stylings of the very wonderful but now sadly departed Love Jones. Take a full measure of lounge lizard cool add a liberal dash of hipster swing, lashings of catchy melodic pop, witty lyrics, a great sense of humour and give it a twist of 60ís kitsch then shake the intoxicating cocktail vigorously until the irresistible retro party sound of Jet Set Six explodes all over you living room like Vesuvius over Pompeii. Fear not though JSS are an irresistibly groovy volcano and the perfect accessory for any self-respecting hipsterís lava lounge.
JSS were virtually the house band at the Greatest Bar on Earth at the Windows on the World restaurant and nightclub at the World Trade Center. JSS main man John Ceperano combined helming the band with promoting Spy Fi Fridays, a weekly kitsch 60ís theme night at the GBOE where he showcased many up and coming acts. The tragic attack on the WTC impacted not only the financial, business and Police/Fire communities in New York but also the restaurant and entertainment sectors. Many staff at the Windows on the World/GBOE lost their lives in the tragedy and New York lost a superb venue. It is hoped that the Jet Set Six ,like the great city they come from, will survive and prosper in the long term. Hereís to the future.


Recommended Jet Set Six

Livin It Up **** (4 stars) 1998 Jet Set Six Records. The bandsí debut album Livin It Up is stuffed full of groovy swinging sounds. Every Single Day and The Dame That Knotted My Rope are real standouts but the other 9 tracks maintain a very high standard indeed with David Bergerís propulsive drumming and David Detweilerís tenor sax well to the fore. These guys can play. Punchy horns and irresistible rhythms are the JSS trademark. And of course thereís the leader of the pack chief songwriter, vocalist and guitarist John Ceperano, a smooth crooner with a gift for wonderfully witty wordplay. All in all an excellent album and great fun too.

Life in the Jet Age **** (4 stars) 2001 Jet Set Six Records. The follow up Life in the Jet Age has so far been released only in limited quantities via the guysí website www.jetsetsix.com. It represents a slight departure for the band with a more 60ís pop vibe. Thankfully the Jet Set Sixís reincarnation as a groovy psychedelic go-go band works very well indeed even if the new direction might disappoint some of the hard core swingheads. However if you like great music and donít worry too much about musical categories Life in the Jet Age rewards the listener with some great songs. The gentle bossa influenced Letís Go to the Beach is great. Sounding like a psychedelic Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 JSS pay tribute on this number to Brazilian master Antonio Carlos Jobim with a hint of the psychedelia of compatriots like Os Mutantes without losing the ironic New York hipster vibe. Stop is a superior slice of retro pop which would sound great on the radio. Of course weíre talking of an ideal world where radio stations donít typically exhibit the imagination of an anally retentive chartered accountant when compiling their playlists. Star Spangled Night sounds like grungy rocky jazz pop for swinging 60ís hipsters. A strange concoction but a quirkily enticing one nonetheless. Set closer the wittily titled James Bondage sounds like it was custom designed for a groovy party at Austin Powerís shagadelic bachelor pad. All in all a diverse and entertaining collection of songs proving that Jet Set Six are a constantly evolving, creative band but wholly uncategorisable. In a world stifled by genres and categories JSS are an invigorating breath of fresh air.

14.

SEKS BOMBA
Seks Bomba

Seks Bomba are an eccentric, eclectic combo from Boston. Their music is a camp, exotic cocktail of surf, lounge, exotica, 60's psychedelia/ Hammond-led instrumentals and Lalo Schifrin/Quincy Jones/Hugo Montenegro style soundtracks. Add a twist of bossa nova and garnish the whole intoxicating combo with Bacharach's pop sensibility and you have a very pleasurable mix of cocktail cool, esoteric exotica and cheezy eazy. Take the Ventures, Dick Dale, Booker T and the MG's, Henry Mancini, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Burt Bacharach, mix them up and ask them to score an imaginary James Bond flick set in a 60's go-go club and you might just get something which sounds a little like Seks Bomba.


Recommended Seks Bomba

Operation Bomba *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars) 1999 Ya Ya Records The band's debut album Operation Bomba is a spoof soundtrack for a spy movie from the swinging 60's. As you might expect there are lots of instrumental workouts showcasing Lori Perkins' Hammond organ to good effect and George Hall's Dick Dale influenced surf guitar features heavily also. It's an undisputably groovy combo and Bomba's version of Lalo Shiffren's The Cat fits right in with the self-penned spy soundtrack/exotica influenced numbers. Bright Lights and You, Girl and Mancini/Mercer's It Had Better Be Tonight feature Chris Cote's confident crooning. There's also a wonderfully weird version of Bacharach and David's Do You Know the Way to San Jose. Save for some breathy background vocals it's Bacharach's swinging 60's schtick redone as exotic, psychedelic instrumental with a particularly pleasing pedal steel guitar sound. Nice!

Somewhere in This Town **** (4 stars) 2001 Ya Ya Records. Seks Bomba's second LP is even more diverse and interesting than their first. Bomba Au Go-Go kick-starts the set with another of Bomba's favoured Hammond instrumental grooves but the sound is already more confident and polished than before. Russ Gershon's tenor sax detonates Happy Hour before Chris Cote's vocals take over. On Operation Bomba Cote's crooning was reminiscent of a hipster Tom Jones-style lounge lizard. Here he's starting to sound more like an angst-ridden Scott Walker after an all-night drinking session with Tom Waits in a seedy downtown bar. This can only be a good thing. Morfina is a nice, light, bossa nova instrumental and an interesting departure for the Bomba sound. I.R.O.C.is back in 60's soundtrack territory and the dreamy, ethereal "Bacharachesque" background vocals combined with Mancini/Montenegro soundtrack stylings suggest we're firmly back in the cinematic mileau. Then a nice surprise: a lovely, graceful version of Jobim's masterly Agua de Beber. Few non-Brazilian outfits can convincingly replicate the Jobim sound. It's hard to imitate that lightness of touch and grace which are characteristic of the master of bossa nova. However Seks Bomba do a great job. Bacharach's Casino Royale and Mercer/Mancini's Charade are well done but the highlight of the album is still to come. The title track Somewhere in This Town is something of a surprise: a devastatingly catchy, original, retro-influenced but contemporary sounding pop song. This track has "hit single" written all over it. It would be number one in a well-ordered universe where the pop charts featured great bands singing great songs rather than the ubiquitous vacuous pretty boys/girls miming to inane ditties penned by an infernal cartel of chartered accountants and the spawn of Satan. Somewhere in This Town is a wonderful song drenched in pop sensibility and full of imaginative imagery and witty wordplay. Chris Cote's vocal is superb and he has great material to work with. George Hall's lyrics are superb: "There's a pool game in a basement where the players take their cues from a jukebox playing Born to Lose." Up until now Seks Bomba have pastiched 60's soundtracks, psychedelia, surf and lounge with panache but with this song they use their influences as a starting point rather than a destination and create their own unique sound. Let's hope it's the start of something big.

15.

THE MIGHTY BLUE KINGS
The Mighty Blue Kings

Chicago's The Mighty Blue Kings erupted on the scene back in 1995 with a Tuesday night residency at local jazz club The Green Mill. These nights became legendary and for two years solid they sold out every gig. After graduating from the Mill the Mighty Blue Kings filled 5,000 capacity arenas in the Chicago area. It's not hard to see why they created such a buzz. Their music is a powerful mix of jump blues, R&B and swing with a strong soul quotient. Major influences are, to this ear, Wynonie Harris, Joe Williams, Joe Turner and co. The Mighty Blue Kings have evolved over the last few years into a highly original band and if their decision to move on from the scintillating swing/jump blues template of their great debut album Meet Me In Uptown has disappointed some traditionalists then they've surely delighted as many more, this listener included.

Recommended Mighty Blue Kings

Meet Me In Uptown **** 1/2 (4 1/2 stars) 1995 R-Jay Records The debut album from The Mighty Blue Kings packs a punch like Mike Tyson at his peak. A sustained pugilistic assault of hard drivin' R&B and jump blues will have you against the ropes right from the bell. Pretty soon you'll be on the canvas taking a "10 count" from the referee. Powerful, intense music like this is very rare. The MBK's sound has an authentic, gritty R&B feel to it and it's difficult to tell the covers from the originals. Ross Bon's material sounds contemporaneous with the judiciously chosen covers such as Jimmy Liggins' classic Cadillac Boogie and other standout standards Big Mamou and Rag Mop. Of the original material the title track Meet Me in Uptown is the daddy. Propulsive drums and a boogie woogie piano drive this baby and it's a solid gold classic right from the get-go. "I'm going Uptown where the girl's are nice and sweet, You know that Uptown's got that boogie woogie beat". The combination of words and music make Uptown sound like the most seductive, sexy place in the world. One of the truly classic neo-swing tracks.


Alive In The City**** 1/2 (4 1/2stars) 2002 R-Jay Records. The MBK's latest album is not so much a radical departure from their previous work as an inspirational progression. Tryin' to Have a Good Time, where Bon shares writing credits with Gene McDaniels sets the scene for the band's new sound. This is contemporary blues music straight out of the beating heart of Chicago. Vital, passionate urban soul which is reminiscent of Joe Cocker and early Steve Winwood but still retains the carnal spirit of 40's R&B. The title track Alive in The City is a great tune. As with the rest of the album the musicianship is flawless: punchy horns,a great hammond organ sound and propulsive drums. Superb modern soul music which recalls the true greats of the genre such as Bobby Womack, Al Green and Isaac Hayes. Alive in The City sounds like a punchy update of Across 110th Street and would provide the perfect soundtrack to a gritty crime flick. Ross Bon's My Heart is True is a tender song which reminds the listener of Al Green during his halcyon days at Hi Records. Co-incidentally Green's It Ain't No Fun to Me is covered next and sounds like an authentic Willie Mitchell production with Ross Bon's expressive vocal doing justice to the sanctified soul star's material. Call Me Honey is a brilliant Bon original, and like so many of his songs, sounds like an R&B/soul standard in the making. And they say they don't make 'em like this anymore! Set closer "Gimme Love", another Bon/McDaniels composition, is a passionate, slow burning track which really works it's way into your soul. It's great that people are still making music this passionate, this powerful and this vital in an era dominated by disposable pop and pre-packaged pap. Alive In The City is a sensational album and if it might disappoint some of the straight-ahead swingheads it will undoubtedly win the MBK's a whole new audience. AITC is a logical progression from the R&B/jump blues stylings of MMIU and the MBK's sound has evolved into a rich, contemporary soul music which continues to pay rich tribute to the past while forging ahead towards a bright new future.

16.

THE JOHNNY NOCTURNE BAND
Johnny Nocturne Band with Kim Malley

Hard swingin' "Johnny Nocturne" is tenor saxophonist John Firmin who hails from Alaska and ended up in San Francisco putting together a great "little big band" swing/jump blues combo called The Johnny Nocturne Band. This is raw blues/jazz/R&B which harks back to the great 40's and 50's eras. As Philip Elwood of the San Francisco Examiner puts it "Firmin has a band that swings as hard as Count Basie's Kansa City Seven,jumps as much as Louis Jordan's Tympany Five and bops like the great 40's bands of Lionel Hampton." Praise indeed but one listen to Million Dollar Secret and you know it's fully warranted.


Recommended Johnny Nocturne Band

Million Dollar Secret **** 1/2 (4 1/2 stars) 1999 Rounder Records Tenor saxmen like John Firmin are thin on the ground. As are female vocalists like Kim Nalley. Combine these two exceptional talents and place them in the context of a dynamite band and you get music this good. Firmin's sax and Nalley's vocals take turns in the foreground with sax solos alternating with vocal choruses in many of the tracks. Nalley's vocals are very reminscent of Dinah Washington with Helen Hume (an artist with whom I'm not so familiar) also being cited as a major influence. Philip Elwood rates Nalley as "the best band singer, any style, I've heard in years and on this evidence it's hard to disagree. Nalley is sensational on Comes Love a tune associated with Billie Holliday and sultry, sassy and sexy on Black Velvet/Don't Cha Go Away Mad. She also does a great version of Nellie Lutcher's Fine Brown Frame (a wonderful track later covered by Lou Rawls in his own inimitable style). But it's not all about the voice, Firmin's virtuoso tenor and the rest of the four man horn section blow harder than Hurricane Andrew with considerably less damage to local infrastructure. This is a mellifluous breeze of the most welcome kind and bass, drums and piano are much more than a supporting cast. Two Firmin instrumental compositions are featured: Visegrip and Johnny Nocturne, both of which feature Tommy Kesecker's vibes to great effect. The latter brings to mind San Francisco vibes legend Cal Tjader. I'm Checkin' Out Go'om Bye is the second Strayhorn/Ellington tune on here (after the elegant Imagine My Frustration) and is a notoriously difficult piece carried off with conviction by this amazing band. Perhaps the highlight, for men anyway, of this set is a fantastic version of Big Joe Turner's Jump Tonight (which was recorded by the great man as Jumpin' Tonight). From the moment Nalley snaps the lines "All you hipcats get up, Let's get together and cut some rug, We're going to jump tonight" you know we're goin' on a wild and crazy trip to the edge of town where the cats are crazy, the women wild, the band blowin', the liquor illicit and the joint jumpin'. This is R&B at it's most infectious. And to round things off the band finish on a slow, sleazy version of Earl Hagen's magnificently seedy jazz noir classic Harlem Nocturne. What more could anyone ask. Great album.




 
Take me back to the Vegas Home Page