Friday, November 28, 2014

Cuban Dance Orchestra

Artist: Cuban Dance Orchestra
LP: Cha Cha
Song: "Negrita" 
[ listen ]

Happy Black Friday! I don't usually go shopping on Black Friday, but the Goodwill near my place was having a 40%-off sale on everything in the store (except yellow tag items) so I stopped by to rummage through their records. This scratchy Cuban jazz LP is one of the things I found. There aren't any liner notes on the back of the sleeve (Plymouth stuck their entire catalog listing there instead), and it's impossible to find info online for a group called simply "Cuban Dance Orchestra." What we do know is that a talented bunch of musicians got together about 60 years ago (this album was probably released in 1956) and made some terrific Cuban dance music! Someone recorded it, Plymouth released it, someone bought it, then they died (probably) and it was my good fortune to find it at Goodwill (for .60¢; regularly $1!). Plus we know that this record was also available in red.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Danny Guglielmi w/ Dena

Artist: Danny Guglielmi w/ vocals by Dena
LP: Adventure In Sound
Song: "Out of Nowhere" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Mosquito Festival" 
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Here's something colorful, spacey and exotic from a grey and rainy November morning in Seattle. Danny Guglielmi and his pipe-smoking wife Dena worked primarily behind the scenes in the music and film industry, but Danny briefly held the spotlight when he used early multi-track recording techniques to create this spectacular collection of atmospheric and slightly experimental tunes that showcase his remarkable musical talents. (This record is reportedly particularly soothing to US presidents recovering from heart trouble.) "Adventure In Sound" was released in 1956 on the budget Tops label and unfortunately failed to make either of the Guglielmis a household name. Their songs do hold up remarkably well nowadays though, and Danny and Dena have become household names in my apartment ever since I first listened to their spellbinding record. You can read more about the Guglielmis on the Space Age Pop Music website here and go here to visit the Ambient Exotica blog where you'll find more album details and reviews. Notes from the back of the LP are included below.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Joan Rivers [1933-2014]

Artist: Joan Rivers
LP: Presents Mr. Phyllis & Other Funny Stories
Song: "Gift Coming" 
[ listen ]

While rummaging around to find my Mike Nichols/Elaine May LP this weekend, I discovered that I actually did still have this 1965 Joan Rivers comedy album. (I remember now that it was a lackluster Erma Bombeck record I got rid of several years ago, not my Joan Rivers LP. How could I have gotten these two women mixed up?) Though I've never really followed her career, I enjoyed getting to know Joan through the film Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, in theaters a few years back. Also, I recall being delighted to see her pop onto the screen in the bizarre 1968 film THE SWIMMER, starring Burt Lancaster as a man who decides to swim his way home through his neighborhood's backyard swimming pools. I just learned today that Ms. Rivers starred in a short-running Broadway play in the late 1950s called "Driftwood," in which she played a lesbian with a crush on Barbra Stereisand! I realize I'm a few months late with this tribute, since Joan died in early September from complications during throat surgery, but better late than never! (My tribute, I mean, not Rivers' demise.) You can read more about Joan Rivers' life and career here, go here to find her obituary in the New York Times and there's a piece here about the dreadful errors the clinic made during Joan's surgery that likely caused her death.

Joan Rivers
[ June 8, 1933 — September 4, 2014 ]
We will miss you, Joan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mike Nichols [1931-2014]

Artist: Mike Nichols & Elaine May
LP: Improvisations To Music
Song: "Mysterioso" 
[ listen ]

I was bummed to hear that Mike Nichols died suddenly from a heart-attack earlier this week. Awarded a closet-full of Tonys for directing Broadway shows like "Barefoot In the Park," "Luv," "The Odd Couple" and "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," Nichols made a huge splash in Hollywood with his very first film, the controversial WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? in 1966. He made another splash in 1967 with his next film, THE GRADUATE, which ultimately defined a generation. He went on to make a bunch more terrific (and some just okay) films over the following four decades, including this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one and this one. And don't forget this one, this one and this one. And, of course, there's this one and this one too. But what about this one, you ask? Yes, I suppose he made that too.

But before any of those movies there was improv comedy duo Mike Nichols & Elaine May. They met at school in Chicago and were arch enemies until Mike saw Elaine sitting in a train station one day. He assumed an odd accent from another land and asked if he could sit down. She, also adopting a foreign accent, said okay and the two played out an impromptu spy routine that both could tell was the seed of something good. (The duo employed this same scenario for "Mysterioso," the track posted above from their debut 1959 LP.) Their rocky relationship eventually caused the partnership to split in 1961, but they joined forces again for several film projects in the 1990s (she as writer, he directed) and the two remained lifelong friends. You can read all about Mike Nichols' life and his influential career in both Tinsel and Tony towns on Wikipedia here; there's more about Elaine May here and go here to read about the work Mike and Elaine did together. There's a moving obituary for Mike Nichols in the New York Times that you can find right here.

Mike Nichols
[ November 6, 1931 — November 19, 2014 ]
We will miss you, Mike.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sister Power

Artist: Sister Power
LP: Sister Power
Song: "Gimme Back My Love Affair" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Love Potion" 
[ listen ]

You're probably as disappointed as I am to discover that the ladies of Sister Power aren't actually related at all. Nope, they're just a trio of gals that famed producer and arranger Paul Sabu (spawn of Sabu—yes, that Sabu—and Broadway actress Marilyn Cooper) randomly threw together to showcase the vocal power of lead singer Gwen Jonáe. Considered a one-hit-wonder ("Gimme Back My Love Affair" was reportedly a disco hit), Sister Power only ever released this lone LP. Born in 1957 or 1960, Paul Sabu was only 19 or 22 years old when he assembled Sister Power, after which he went on to work with the likes of David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Elvira while also appearing with his metal band, Only Child, and having remarkably lovely hair. There's more to read about Paul Sabu here and here, and you can find his website here.

[ Sister Power lead vocals: Gwen Jonáe ]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Keith Stewart

Artist: Keith Stewart
LP: Jamaica Calling
Song: "Last Thing On My Mind" 
[ listen ]
Song: "Young Man" 
[ listen ]

I wanted to post something a little bit zippier today, but I've been feeling under the weather and Keith Stewart's warm voice is like a calming Caribbean bubble bath. He's like the Jamaican John Denver. After a ten year stint as half of Keith and Enid, Keith Stewart went solo in the late 1960s, working the hotels on the north coast of Jamaica. His version of "The Last Thing On My Mind" is one of the loveliest things I've heard in quite awhile. Sadly, Keith, who was also a talented painter and played a mean game of cricket, died of kidney cancer about four years ago; you can read more about Mr. Stewart in the Jamaica Observer here

[ Keith Stewart: July 1, 1938 — November 3, 2010 ]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Phoenix Singers

Artist: The Phoenix Singers
LP: The Phoenix Singers
Song: "Lovely Choucoune" 
[ listen ]

I found this 1962 self-titled folk LP by The Phoenix Singers at Used Kids Records in Columbus, Ohio back in the summer of 2011. It's the group's only album, aside from a recording of them playing live at The Shadows (later called The Cellar Door) in Washington, DC. The Phoenix Singers (did they ever actually sing in Phoenix?) were musical guests for Johnny Carson's first gig hosting "The Tonight Show." Originally members of The Belafonte Singers, Ned Wright, Arthur Williams and Roy Thompson are hard to track down once they got out of Phoenix. According to an obituary in the Toledo Blade, Ned Wright, a native of Rossford, Ohio, died at age 55 on September 29, 1981. (Go here to listen to Ned's jazzy version of "Route 66," performed in Russia in 1955.) This recent Facebook post at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston indicates Arthur Williams is alive and in need of support. I can't find any post-Phoenix info about Roy Thompson. You can read more about The Phoenix Singers here; a photo of the trio and Johnny Carson's liner notes from the back of the LP are included below.

[ The Phoenix Singers on "The Tonight Show w/ Johnny Carson" — October 1, 1962 ]
[ L-R: Ned Wright — Roy Thompson — Arthur Williams ]

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Paul Mickelson

Artist: Paul Mickelson
LP: Paul Mickelson Plays For Youth
Song: "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder" 
[ listen ]

Organ virtuoso Paul Mickelson played with evangelist Billy Graham in the years 1950 to 1957, beginning when he was just 22 years old. You can read more about Mr. Mickelson at the online tribute to his life and music here. There's no denying Paul Mickelson's got talent, but I find there's something belittling in the way he plays for youth on this particular LP, released on the Word label in 1961. Paul's rendition of "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," in particular, seems to minimize the very audience he hopes to reach.

[ Paul Mickelson: December 30, 1927 — October 21, 2001 ]