Swingin' in Bakersfield (07/16/99)
Various Artists, Swing West! (Razor & Tie 1999) - Swing West! is an ambitious three-disk set that seeks to capture the West Coast country sound from the 40's through the 60's. Drawing almost exclusively from recordings made for Capitol Records, the set is a coherent and intelligent musical history.
Volume 1 is entitled "Bakersfield," and features an anti-Nashville sound that is long on twang and short on slick production. Rooted in Texas honky-tonk, the Bakersfield sound found its roots in the 1930's dust bowl migration, and was highlighted by the guitar licks of the Fender Telecaster.
The songs on "Bakersfield" include: "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz" by Jean Shepard (from Visalia); the weird Tommy Collins with "You Better Not Do That" (sort of like Gomer Pyle with a nasal drawl); the original "Highway Patrol" by Red Simpson (recently re-recorded by guit-steel innovator Junior Brown); and "Hum Dinger" by the Farmer Boys (now part of the repertoire of BR5-49).
Disk 2 shifts to "Guitar Slingers," and is the strongest of the three albums, as it draws from the southern California hotbed of guitar experimentation and innovation in the 40s and 50s, led by such pioneers as Les Paul, Leo Fender, and Paul Bigsby.
The instrumental gems on "Guitar Slingers" include Les Paul himself on "Chicken Reel," Merle Travis with "Cannonball Rag," and the fleet-fingered Jimmy Bryant on "Little Rock Getaway." (Bryant played so fast that early Nashville talk suggested his tapes had been sped up: the rumor ceased after the producer brought Bryant to Nashville's annual disc jockey convention for a live performance.)
Other performers on "Guitar Slingers" include Roy Lanham with "A Smooth One" and a 1963 instrumental charmer from Glen Campbell ("12-String Special") that shows why Glen was one of the top session men in Los Angeles before becoming a star in his own right.
Volume 3, entitled "Western Swing," is perhaps the album's biggest disappointment, as it lacks a coherent center. While the album opens strongly with "New Spanish Two Step" by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, novelty tracks like "Wake Up, Irene" by Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys and "Snatching' and Grabbin'" by Merrill Moore wear thin. (Ditto for the self-deprecating "I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again" by Jan Howard on Volume 1.)
Also included on "Western Swing" is "Oklahoma Stomp" by Spade Cooley's California swing band, "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" by Tex Williams (former vocalist for the Spade Cooley band), "Redskin Rag" by Leon McAuliffe, and "Watch It, Neighbor" by Cliffie Stone (which track has not been previously reissued on CD).
All told, Swing West! is a serious set, with helpful and well-researched liner notes, and will make a fine addition to any fan of the West Coast country sound.
Various Artists, Sing America (Warner 1999) - Sing America is a 21-track album with a special charitable purpose: the profits will go to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which seeks to preserve historic sites, artifacts and documents which symbolize the country's culture and experience.
But you won't buy the album just to support a good cause: you'll buy it because the music is good. Sing America focuses on songs with American themes, and opens with "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Leonard Bernstein (with the New York Philharmonic). Then listen for Paul Simon performing "Graceland," Arlo Guthrie's enduring "City of New Orleans," and Linda Ronstadt with "Back in the USA."
Also included are songs by Bob Dylan ("Blowin' in the Wind"), Willie Nelson ("Living in the Promiseland"), Stevie Wonder ("Sir Duke"), Leann Rimes ("God Bless America"), and a previously-unreleased version of the "Star Spangled Banner" as performed by Cher at Super Bowl XXXIII.
With its stated effort to preserve our nation's glorious heritage - our monuments, parks, archives and landmarks from sea to shining sea - Sing America is a fine collection. Enjoy this red, white and blue album.
Dangerman, Dangerman (Sony 550 1999) - Dangerman is a New York-based duo that plays sophisticated pop, Latin, rock, and hip-hop. With production help from Brendan O'Brien, Dangerman has a smooth groove that spells H-I-T.
Dangerman consists of Chris Scianni on guitar and lead vocals and Dave Boria on drums, sequencing, and backing vocals. The pair have played on numerous studio sessions and live shows with a diverse roster of musicians, including Lars Ulrich from Metallica.
Speaking of his work with Metallica, Dave says, "I don't think they liked our band much at all. But they were very encouraging. Lars kept saying the two of us have something special, and he really admonished us to stick to it. I think they planted the seed in both our minds so we had to try something different - and trying to do something different turned into Dangerman."
Chris and Dave teamed up with Brendan O'Brien (who has produced albums by such hit acts as Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots) at his studio in Atlanta to begin recording, and emerged with a completed album in less than a month.
Dangerman likes to use the term "urban rock" when discussing their music, and the description fits. From salsa-fied numbers like "Let's Make a Deal" to the techno-influenced "Remember" to up-tempo rock tracks like "High Heeled Sneakers," Dangerman never stops moving.
This is fresh, this is exciting, this is different. Dangerman has seen the future, and wants to share it with you.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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