Jackie Davis was among the first players to spearhead the organ-jazz genre in the mid-50s. As a pianist who’s accompanied Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, his touch at the keyboard was especially noticeable on the highly responsive electro-mechanical Hammond organ. His repertoire favored jazz, blues and pop standards, ranging from Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” to Arlen and Mercer’s “Blues in the Night” and the twelve-bar “Night Train.” After five years on Capitol, Davis moved to Warner Brothers, where his first release was this 1963 production. As the album title implies, Davis’ small combo takes it easy on the tempos, though the Hammond provides plenty of fire and Earl Palmer’s drumming adds compelling accents. Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass provide rhythm as Davis’ keys dance across the light swing of the title tune, and his keys deftly wind their way around the Latin beat of “Midnight Sun.” It’s not until the album’s closing take on “Saint Louis Blues” that the band turns up the tempo, with Comfort running up and down the strings and Palmer’s snare drum and ride cymbal getting a workout. This is a fine, low-key organ jazz album from an early master of the form. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
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Those seeking Barney Kessel’s legendary jazz stylings should look elsewhere. As a guitarist in the ‘50s, Kessel was renowned for his cool, bop-inspired playing in small quartets on sessions with the Contemporary label. But in the early ‘60s he signed with Reprise and embarked on a series of pop records. This was hardly new territory for Kessel, as he’d been backing pop musicians for years, and was a first-call guitarist for pop titans like Phil Spector; but as a front-man, this was a break from the jazz sessions he’d previously led. This bossa nova inspired entry from 1962 finds Kessel mostly taking a back seat to sharp, lounge-inspired band orchestrations. His guitar playing here is twangy pop, with no jazz inflections or blue notes, and the repertoire of standards is given Brazilian beats. The horn charts are tight, and when Kessel does pick, he sounds great – but this isn’t a jazz album, or even a guitar album; it’s a pop instrumental album in league with contemporaneous works by Neal Hefti, Billy Strange, Lalo Schifrin, John Barry and others. This is a sizzling, swinging treat if you approach it on its merits, rather than as a lesser entry in Barney Kessel’s catalog of guitar recordings. This is also available on CD as a 3-fer with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Contemporary Latin Rhythms. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
This reissue of The Wham of That Memphis Man is the way that many listeners first met the savagely powerful guitar playing of Lonnie Mack. Originally released in 1963 on the Fraternity label, the album was re-sequenced and reissued with two extra tracks by Elektra in 1970. It’s since been reissue on CD, both in this stereo lineup, and in the original mono. The latter is more brutally powerful for its center-channel punch, but either configuration will astound you with Mack’s breathtaking, reverb-powered, tremelo-bar bent guitar playing. The album opens with Mack’s original “Wham!,” quickly gaining momentum until the song becomes an unstoppable locomotive. Mack picks wildly as the bass and drums stoke the beat and the rest of the band hangs on for dear life. Mack’s take on Dale Hawkins’ “Susie-Q” is just as deft, as he alternates between rhythm and lead, masterfully picking long twangy phrases that circle back to the root riff.
Mack’s first solo recording for Fraternity, an improvised cover of “Memphis,” is perhaps his most impressive, as he double-picks and ranges up and down the length of the fret board. No doubt Chuck Berry must have been impressed; Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others certainly were, as they taught themselves from these performances. Beyond Mack’s virtuosity as a guitarist, he was also a soulful vocalist who drew on the blues for Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What’s Wrong,” on gospel for the testimony of “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” and on both for the pained “Why.” For Collector’s Only adds two mono bonuses to the original Wham’s eleven tracks, the blues classic “Farther On Up the Road” and the flaming, original instrumental “Chicken Pickin’.” Mono or stereo, original line-up or expanded, this is a true classic from 1963. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
The Lively Ones’ fourth album is split with a group of West Coast studio players (including no less than Tom Scott and Billy Strange) recording as The Surf Mariachis. As on all of the Lively Ones’ albums, their sides collect previously released singles and additional covers, drawing in songs from outside the surf genre, such as the Oscar-winning theme “Exodus.” The Surf Mariachis add both Latin and surf flavors to their covers, which also pull from disparate sources, such as Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock,” Mongo Herbie Hancock’s (by way of Mongo Santamaria’s) “Watermelon Man” and the theme to Mondo Cane, “More.” It’s all quite fun, though kitschier than the Las Vegas grind/surf of the band’s debut album, recorded just the year before. Unlike the reissues of the band’s three previous albums, this one is all mono; available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with the band’s third album, Surf City) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
By the time this Southern California surf quintet cranked out their third album within a year, the formula – a few singles, a few new tracks, a track list populated almost entirely of covers – was proving durable, though decreasingly exciting. On this outing the band tackles Jan & Dean (“Surf City”), the Tornados (“Telstar”), Santa & Johnny (“Sleepwalk”), Johnny Fortune (“Soul Surfer”) and revisits “Misirlou” and “Surf Rider” from their previous outings. What makes each Lively Ones album interesting are the songs they repurpose from other genres, such as Freddie King’s “Head’s Up” and “Butterscotch.” They even manage to quote the Munsters theme song on the latter tune. As on their previous albums, the band mixes the twang of guitars with the fat saxophone of Joel Willlenbring, creating a hybrid that blends ‘50s instrumentals with ‘60s surf rock. The band is sharp as ever, but the lack of original material starts to make this feel more like a Saturday night covers act than an original surf rock band. There’s stereo sound throughout and the tracks are available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with the band’s fourth album, Surfin’ South of the Border) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
The second album from this Southern California instrumental surf quintet, one of four they released in 1963, isn’t quite as thrilling as their debut, Surf Rider! As on the debut, the band mixed twangy surf guitars with a fat-toned sax that recalled rock instrumentals of the ‘50s. Also as on their debut, this one mixes a few pre-album singles with tracks recorded especially for the long-player, with the song list sticking to covers, including Duane Eddy’s “40 Miles of Bad Road,” the Rockin’ Rebels’ “Wild Weekend,” Arthur Smith’s “Guitar Boogie” (rechristened as “Surfer Boogie”), Link Wray’s “Rumble” and “Rawhide” (the latter rechristened “Surf Drums”), and so on. Tom Fitzpatrick’s drumming isn’t mixed as snappily to the fore as on the debut, and the heavy use of Joel Willenbring’s sax sometimes weighs this more towards ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and Las Vegas Grind than pure surf. Still, the band is tight, with some great stop-start arrangements and energetic bass lines by Ron Griffith. There’s stereo sound throughout and the tracks are available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with Surf Rider!) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
The Lively Ones’ debut album remained their best effort, and a great example of ‘50s instrumentals morphing into ‘60s surf rock. Joel Willenbring supplies the fat-toned sax, and Jim Masoner and Ed Chiaverini the reverbed guitars. The quintet’s first full length pulled together previously released singles – notably the title track’s reworking of the Ventures’ “Spudnik” – with a handful of covers and a few memorable originals. The album opens with Tom Fitzpatrick’s crisp drumming kicking off Dick Dale’s “Surf Beat,” smoothly integrating Willenbring’s growling sax with the low twanging guitars. A take on the classic “Miserlou” hasn’t the manic staccato virtuosity of Dale’s version, but the drums once again cut sharp lines behind the energetic guitars. The more obscure covers are even better: a moody take on the Strangers’ “Caterpillar Crawl” and an upbeat romp through “Walkin’ the Board” each sound like something Thee Swank Bastards would use to get Szandora LaVey’s hula-hoop up to speed. The two originals, “Goofy Foot” and “Happy Gremmie” are quite fine, the latter with a bluesy edge to its combination of surf and Vegas grind. Great sound (stereo except track 2, 4, 5 and 6) – this is a must have for any surfer stomp; available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with their second album, Surf Drums) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Soul Clan – Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. King and Joe Tex – turned out to be more of a concept than a working concern. They waxed only one single as a group, pairing the Southern-styled “Soul Meeting” with the gospel-influenced “That’s How it Feels,” leaving their 1969 album to be filled out with two solo sides apiece. It’s a great set, highlighted by Conley’s transcendent “Sweet Soul Music,” but the two collaborative sides leave you wondering what might have been, if Atco could have coordinated more sessions together. Those with deep collections of the individual performers can now snag the two Soul Clan collaborations as individual digital downloads. Collector’s note: despite the stereo cover art, Rhino’s digital reissue is mono. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
After two successful years fronting the Teenagers, vocalist Frankie Lymon stepped into a surprisingly unsuccessful solo career with this fine 1958 studio album. Having lost his childhood soprano to adolescence, his 16-year-old voice still had plenty of punch, and continued to leap from the grooves. His out-of-breath delivery of “Waitin in School” has an adolescent everything-is-happening-at-once fervor that Ricky Nelson’s cool-cat style didn’t match. It doesn’t hurt to have an ace guitar player – Mickey Baker, perhaps – tearing thing up in the breaks. Producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore double the vocals on “Wake Up Little Suzie,” creating a more saucy mood than the Everly’s original, and though covers of the Rays’ “Silhouettes” and the Coasters’ “Searchin’” aren’t particularly inspiring, there’s still plenty here to impress. Lymon’s adolescence adds a note of sweet longing to Nat King Cole’s “Send for Me,” and the R&B “Next Time You See Me” and “Short Fat Fanny” give Lymon a chance to really wail. Most impressive are original approaches to “Jailhouse Rock” and “Diana” that pay each song its due without imitating the hits. Several of these tracks were released as singles, but none had the success of the early Teenagers’ sides; worse, with a heroin habit eating away his abilities, Lymon was dropped by Roulette in 1961. He’d record a few sides for other labels, but this album and a handful of non-LP singles for Roulette (that should have been included here as bonus tracks) represents the end of Lymon’s run as a bright thread in the rock ‘n’ roll tapestry. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
The Anita Kerr singers are among the most heard, and least known-by-name, vocal group in the history of recording. That’s because Kerr’s group was the go-to backing group (along with the Jordanaires) for hundreds of sessions during the Nashville Sound era of the early ‘60s. They appeared almost constantly on the charts backing top country hits by Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young, Brenda Lee, pop records by Pat Boone, Perry Como, Bobby Vinton and many, many others. Alongside their choral work, the group recorded several albums for RCA, including the Grammy winning We Dig Mancini. In the mid-60s Kerr disbanded the Nashville edition of her group, convened a new edition in Los Angeles, and commenced recording for Warner Brothers. This is the group’s fourth, and last album for the label, and was originally issued in the flower-power year of 1967.
Kerr picked her material with an arranger’s ear for possibilities, finding new vocal interplay even in songs as originally complex as the Association’s “Never My Love.” The songs are drawn from pop, rock, folk, soul and easy listening, and Kerr’s arrangements and orchestrations always find something new, often with a vocal-jazz feel. She expands on the vocal work of the Mamas & Papas “No Salt on Her Tail” and turns the Bee Gees’ moody “Holiday” into something contemplative. Less successful are her transformations of the soul tunes, “A Natural Woman” and “How Can I Be Sure.” The album is more a period piece than the lasting art Kerr created with her hit background arrangements, but it remains a pleasant breeze that blew across the heavier rock and soul of the ‘60s. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]