Sunday, April 23, 2017

Salsatic Vibrato V

"Love's a Big Witch Doctor"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

There are several mixes I reach for when I’m feeling happy.  But Salsatic Vibrato is almost certainly the one I reach for most often.  As such, it’s one that I’m always looking to expand on.  Here’s the latest installment.

For any mix that achieves a volume five or higher, you’re looking for the same thing: a good balance of the artists you hear from every volume, bring back some old favorites that you heard from once or twice then never again, and of course bring in some new blood to keep things fresh.  Salsatic Vibrato V does a pretty good of achieving this goal, if I do say so myself.

For the solid favorites, we of course could not do one of these without Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, who gave us 7 songs on the previous four volumes, so of course they’re back for two more.  Having thoroughly mined my favorite album of theirs,1 I’m still exporing the rest of their catalog, including returning to This Beautiful Life for “I’m Not Sleeping,” which is, despite its title, not even remotely somnolent, and going for the first time to Save My Soul, their album of New-Orleans-inspired music.  This latter album is quite possibly my least favorite outing of theirs, but even a “bad” BBVD album is still pretty damned good, and “You Know You Wrong” is a rollicking, fun tune that I couldn’t pass up.  Eight to the Bar didn’t show up until volume III, but they’ve put in a strong showing since then, with three songs in two volmes.  This time I stray for the first time past their best, Behind the Eight Ball, to bring you “Calling All Ickeroos!”  You probably don’t know what an ickeroo is.  Go listen to the song; you’ll work it out.  Similarly, Lee Press-On and the Nails showed up in volume III and have been with us ever since.  For this volume I chose one of their most upbeat tunes: “Enjoy Yourself.”  This is an old jazz standard, first showing up in 1949 performed by Guy Lombardo, and later covered by various people from Louis Prima to Bing Crosby.  LPN’s version is a pretty great one, and very emblematic of what makes them perfect for ths mix.  Plus it’s one of their few songs where it’s not either Lee or his lovely wife Leslie singing, but rather both.

Not really a “returning” artist, Lou Bega is actually pretty standard for this mix, although we did miss him last time out.  But now he’s back with opener “I Got a Girl,” which does a great job of setting the mood for the rest of the volume.  In the properly returning category, you may remember we hit the soundtrack to Swing way back on volume II.  Well, now Lisa Stansfield is back again with “Ain’t What You Do,” another old standard, this time all the way from 1939, once sung by Ella Fitzgerald (among others).  Stansfield’s version is upbeat and appropriately brassy.  And Koop we haven’t heard from since they named volume III for us, but they’re back as well.  “Summer Sun” is off their second album, Waltz for Koop, which is perhaps slightly less jazzy and more electro than the excellent Koop Islands, but also a bit more upbeat overall.  “Sun” is another fantasic Yukimi Nagano vocal,2 just as bright and invigorating as its name implies.  Meanwhile, we haven’t heard from Royal Crown Revue since volume II, mostly because they’re low on my personal list of retro-swing favorites.3  But they get a good one every now and again, and “Trapped (in the Web of Love)” is pretty hip.  (And, as an added bonus, it provides our volume title.)  Finally, ska greats Madness are back again with their magnificent mostly-instrumental “One Step Beyond.”  Despite basically having only 3 words,4 “One Step Beyond” is an awesome track, fully worthy of inclusion here.

When it comes to new artists, the real find here is Brass Action.  A Vancouver-based ska band, I first heard them in the very good movie Horns, based on the excellent book of the same name.5  “The Devil Down Below” (which is the song used in the movie, for obvious reasons) is a simply amazing powerhouse track that transcends the power-ska label and becomes something greater.  “Chicken House,” their track on the second half of the volume, is not as strong (few things are), but it’s a solid effort that really helps elevate the long run of ska tunes.

In the unsurprising category, we need some electro-swing, no?  Instead of Caravan Palace, I went with Austrian electronica artist Parov Stelar’s best effort in that vein, “Jimmy’s Gang.”  It’s a bright, poppy instrumental that really highlights that subgenre.  It’s also no shock to see Meaghan Smith here finally: after hearing her on Moonside by Riverlight, Sirenexiv Cola, and Slithy Toves, we surely knew that all that brass had to lead her here eventually.  “If You Asked Me” is one of the most upbeat tracks off the insanely good Cricket’s Orchestra and works perfectly between LPN and BBVD.

Probably the best part about this volume, though, is the combination of two runs, glued together by Combustible Edison’s half-minute instrumental break, another short piece from the Four Rooms soundtrack.6  The first, shorter, run is only two songs, but two songs of great jazzy-hip-hop.  First we have our centerpiece, the classic “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” by Us3.  Released within a year of Digable Planets’ “Cool Like Dat” and of a very similar style,7 some people think of “Cantaloop” as a bit of a rip-off.  But it was the (slightly) bigger hit, and, honestly, I just like it better.8  I follow that up with Mocean Worker, another artist I discovered via LittleBigPlanet.9  The son of a well-known jazz and R&B producer,10 Mocean Worker (“mocean” rhymes with “ocean,” by the way) is a DJ who is probably just as famous for doing remixes as for putting out original work.  Almost all of the latter is instrumental, and “Swagger” is my absolute favorite: infectious, groovy in the fullest sense of the word, and just happy-making.

Then, after the bridge, we kick off a 4-song ska run, which makes this the most ska-drenched volume yet.11  We kick it off with the hardy power-ska of the Interrupters, who seem to be desperately trying to resurrect the glory days of the subgenre, headed by acts like Rancid and Goldfinger, some 15 years later.  “Take Back the Power” is easily their best, and it’ll reach out and grab ya by the throat.  Then on through the Madness tune and finishing up with the second Brass Action tune.

And then we have “2-6-5-8-0,” which leads me to ruminate on the vast difference an ocean can make.  On one side of the Atlantic, Kim Wilde is known as a one-hit wonder for her undeniably catchy “Kids in America.”  On the other, she’s something of a mega-pop star, with 25 hits in Britain’s top 50 (17 in the top 40 in the 80’s alone), several #1 songs in France, and top 10 hits in Germany, Belgium, and Scandinavia.  She got a Brit Award (Britain’s Grammy) in 1983, and holds the record for most charted British female solo act.12  Her debut Kim Wilde is actually quite a good album, unlike some of those release in the 80’s which are 80% filler and 20% pop hit.  I’ve owned it, off and on, for probably 20 years or more.  Not one of my all-time favorites, but a nice listen nonetheless.  The track I’m using here has a kickin’ brass section and an almost (but not quite) ska feel that nevertheless earns its penultimate spot in this volume’s ska run.

Salsatic Vibrato V
    [Love's a Big Witch Doctor]

        “I Got a Girl” by Lou Bega, off A Little Bit of Mambo
        “Ain't What You Do” by Lisa Stansfield, off Swing [Soundtrack]
        “Enjoy Yourself” by Lee Press-On and the Nails, off El Bando en Fuego!
        “If You Asked Me” by Meaghan Smith, off The Cricket's Orchestra
        “You Know You Wrong” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, off Save My Soul
        “The Devil Down Below” by The Brass Action, off Making Waves
        “Calling All Ickeroos!” by Eight to the Bar, off Calling All Ickeroos
        “Flame Is Love” by The Presidents of the United States of America, off These Are the Good Times People
        “Heard Somebody Cry” by Oingo Boingo, off Dead Man's Party
        “Weird to Be Back” by Firewater, off The Golden Hour
        “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” by Us3, off Hand on the Torch
        “Swagger” by Mocean Worker, off Candygram for Mowo!
        “The Earthly Diana” by Combustible Edison, off Four Rooms [Soundtrack]
        “Take Back the Power” by The Interrupters, off The Interrupters
        “One Step Beyond” by Madness, off Complete Madness [Compilation]
        “2-6-5-8-0” by Kim Wilde, off Kim Wilde
        “Chicken House” by The Brass Action, off Making Waves
        “Jimmy's Gang” by Parov Stelar, off The Princess
        “Summer Sun” by Koop, off Waltz for Koop
        “I'm Not Sleepin'” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, off This Beautiful Life
        “Trapped (In the Web of Love)” by Royal Crown Revue, off Walk on Fire
        “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire, off Greatest Hits [Compilation]
Total:  22 tracks,  75:23

Leading into our centerpiece is a three-song run of fairly unexpected candidates.  “Brass” doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of the Presidents of the United States of America—who are most well known for hardcore silliness, like “Lump” and “Peaches”—but “Flame Is Love” is a major departure for them that lands squarely in this mix’s bailiwick: it’s a kickass tune with plenty of brassy joy to go around.  Then we have Oingo Boingo, who often feature brass in their tunes, but are still not often suitable for this mix.13  “Heard Somebody Cry,” off their ferociously good album Dead Man’s Party, is probably a bit of a stretch here, but it’s upbeat enough, and plus I really like it.  Finally, Firewater, who we’ve seen on such wildly different mixes as Slithy Toves and Porchwell Firetime, can do brassy and upbeat with the best of ’em, and this one (“Weird to Be Back”) is pretty damned good.

Our closer this time is a genre I haven’t mined before, I don’t think: funk.  Not sure why it took me so long to get around to it, but, if you’re looking for happy, brass-oriented music, you eventually have to come to Earth, Wind & Fire, and so we have.  EW&F have quite a few tracks that would work well, but I decided to start simple, with “Shining Star.”  It’s an upbeat tune with a positive message, and I figured that was a perfect way to close this one out.

Next time around, it think it’s finally time to release my most hard-edged, uptempo mix ever.


1 That was Americana Deluxe, you may recall.

2 Nagano sang background on “Forces ... Darling” from volume III of this mix as well as lead on “Come to Me,” which we saw on Moonside by Riverlight.

3 Although they’re very popular in general within that community.  I often say that they’re the most popular retro-swing band that the general public has never heard of.

4 “Basically” is a word which here means “not counting the silly spoken-word intro.”

5 In the book, Iggy Perrish’s brother plays trumpet for a late-night show’s band; in the movie, apparently, he plays trumpet for the Brass Action.

6 We saw two others of those on Phantasma Chorale I.

7 I suppose movies aren’t the only things that sometimes come in pairs.

8 Which is not to say that we’ll never see Digable Planets show up on this mix, because, most likely, we will.

9 Although we haven’t gotten around to him on Paradoxically Sized World yet.  But we will.  In the fullness of time.

10 Well, well-known if you’re in the biz anyway.

11 Which hopefully makes up for the lack of Latin influence this time out: there’s nothing even salsa-adjacent on this particular volume.  Sorry if that was your favorite part.  We’ll get back to it next volume.  Promise.

12 All info from her Wikipedia article.

13 So far we’ve only heard them on Totally Different Head, due to their strong new wave tendencies.

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