FRANKIE SUMATRAíS TOP 20 MODERN
|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)
to the Losers" LP ***** (5 stars) Zoo/BMG 1993. Love Jones'
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.
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.
|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
Recommended Yalloppin' Hounds (Click
on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)
Swing Extreme" LP **** (4 stars) Yalloppin' Entertainment
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.
|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.
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.
|H.B. 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!
|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.
Without Bodies" LP **** (4 stars) Chesky Records 1998. Clever,
warm, witty eulogies to love, sex and swing. Melodic and inventive music
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.
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
"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
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.
Big Top Parade" LP ***** (5 stars) Hepcat Records 2001.
Wonderfully evocative, sinister, literate lounge music for aficionados..
|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
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.
|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)
Bad Voodoo Daddy 1st" LP ***1/2 (3.5 stars) Big Bad Records
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.
Bad Voodoo Daddy" LP ***** (5 stars) Coolsville/Interscope
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.
Beautiful Life" LP **** (4 stars) Coolsville/Interscope
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.
|ROYAL CROWN 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)
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.
**** (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
"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.
|LAVAY SMITH &
HER RED HOT SKILLET LICKERS
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
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)
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.
Talkin Bout Miss T" LP **** (4 stars) Fat Note Records
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.
|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
Recommended Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack (Click
on titles to purchase now from Amazon, where available)
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.
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.
|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
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.
|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
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.
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.
|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
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.
|THE JOHNNY NOCTURNE
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.