Posts Tagged ‘Verve’

Various Artists: Pan Am – Music From and Inspired by the Original Series

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Swinging collection of ‘60s jet-age pop marred by contemporary covers

The vintage picks on this fourteen-track set nicely conjure the ring-a-ding-ding jet-age culture of television’s Pan Am. Unfortunately, the inclusion of two contemporary cover versions reeks of marketing opportunism, and interrupts the vintage vibe of an otherwise finely programmed collection. Grace Potter and Nikki Jean’s fans may enjoy their renditions of, respectively, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” but the modernity of their vocal styles sticks out among the company they’re keeping here.

The set opens with the underappreciated Buddy Greco swinging “Around the World” as if he’s got Rat Pack-era Las Vegas on a string. He sports the energy of Louis Prima and the cool of a young Bobby Darin. Darin himself brings the program back on track with a terrific version of “Call Me Irresponsible.” The collection includes international space-age bachelor pad chestnuts “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Mais Que Nada,” and “Quando Quando Quando” and serves up several lesser-known, but no less superb items. Ella Fitzgerald scats brilliantly through Rodgers & Hart’s “Blue Skies” and Peggy Lee opens “New York City Blues” as a smoky ballad before bursting into joyous celebration of all things Big Apple.

Shirley Horn provides a master class in jazz vocals with “The Best is Yet to Come,” a tune famously recorded by Sinatra and Basie in ‘64. Basie’s band adds its own notes of sophistication with the horn chart for Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and Brenda Lee’s “Break it to Me Gently” will break listeners’ hearts with its gut-wrenching vocal. Nikki Jean has the bad fortune to follow Lee’s tour de force, sounding cute, but inconsequential in comparison. The set ends with Dinah Washington’s superb “Destination Moon,” closing a fine set of jet-age artifacts from and inspired by the television show. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

The Ramsey Lewis Trio: Never on Sunday

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The Ramsey Lewis trio swings standards and pop hits

When this 1961 album was recorded, the classic lineup of the Ramsey Lewis Trio (featuring bassist Eldee Young and drummer Red Holt, who later formed Young-Holt Unlimited) was still developing the highly accessible jazz style they’d created in the late ‘50s. More importantly, the trio was still a few years shy of their 1965 breakthrough with “The In Crowd.” Here they combine pop hits, such as the title track, with tin-pan alley standards (the Gershwins’ “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’”), folk tunes (“Water Boy”) and the Academy Award winning (and Bob Hope theme song) “Thanks for the Memory.” The playing is soulful, with Lewis fingering his usual bluesy twists, Young playing wonderfully musical solos on bass, and Holt complementing the beat with terrific accents. It’s a brief album, but the trio’s style is buoyant and refreshing. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Peter Wolf: Midnight Souvenirs

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

One of rock’s great voices returns with something to say

Peter Wolf’s first new release in eight years will instantly make fans realize just how big a hole his absence left in their lives. It will also make you long for a time when cool rock music was everywhere, could be heard regularly on the radio, and didn’t need adjectives to claim it independent of the mainstream – it was the mainstream. Wolf’s solo works have always retained the fire of his earlier sides with the J. Geils Band, but they were also the product of an adult voice. Together with longtime producer Kenny White, Wolf’s crafted a sleek album of rock music that draws heavily on its R&B, soul and blues roots. He’s written or co-written all but one of the fourteen tracks, and covers Alan Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky.” The latter is a perfect vehicle for the Wolf showmanship.

Wolf duets on the opening “Tragedy” with Shelby Lynne, calling, responding and harmonizing as a couple dancing passionately on the razor’s edge between reconciliation and extinction. The song opens with Wolf singing against rich guitars, giving listeners a moment to luxuriate in the qualities of his voice. But as Lynne and the band kick-in, she proves herself the perfect foil and the arrangement builds and subsides with the song’s exhilarated and exhausted emotions. Romantic turmoil and opportunities are considered alongside Wolf’s thoughts on mortality. “There’s Still Time” is resolute in making the best of current opportunities, while “Lying Low” looks forward. The themes twine together in “Green Fields of Summer,” a duet with Neko Case that realizes the actions and relationships of the here and now echoe into the hereafter.

Mostly it’s women that are on Wolf’s mind. He dreams and chases, fights and makes up, keeps an eternal flame in “Always Asking for You” and laments losses in “Then it Leaves us All Behind.” There’s hard-won experience in both his optimism and heartbreak, and he expresses this with humor on the motor-mouthed soul rap “Overnight Lows.” The album closes with a pair of honorifics, the retrospective tribute to Willy DeVille, “The Night Comes Down,” and the beautifully crafted Merle Haggard duet, “It’s Too Late for Me.” Wolf sounds great throughout the album, in good voice and reveling in his blue moods; his new songs are crafted to tell stories with their arrangements as well as their lyrics. Let’s hope the next triumph isn’t eight years away! [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]