Sunday, September 3, 2017

Salsatic Vibrato VI

"Dinner at Seven, Martinis at Five"

[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.]

When I wrote about Salsatic Vibrato I, I wrote that it was my number two mix in terms of number of tracks, although it was only 4 songs shy of the leader (Smokelit Flashback).  Since that time, the two mixes have been neck-and-neck, one pulling slightly ahead for a while, only to fall slightly behind for a while after that.  But lately Salsatic Vibrato has surged into the lead, beating the original by 50-some-odd tracks, with 6 volumes more or less completed and a 7th perhaps 75% done, while Somkelit Flashback’s 6th is only around half done, and its “7th” is just a disconnected collection of randomly jumbled songs.  And so it is that Salsatic Vibrato is the first of my mixes to achieve a 6th blog post.  And here you are to read it.

This outing is a pretty solid offering, if I do say so myself, with no repeated artists at all,1 and, among the 22 tracks, 5 are from from old standards, 10 are returning artists that are slighly less heard-from, and 7 are brand new.  That’s a decent ratio for a volume VI.

Only one band has appeared on every preceding volume: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and of course they’re back now.  “I Like It” is a happy little tune, typical of BBVD.  There are also 3 bands who have shown up on 4 of the 5 previous volumes, and 2 of them are back after being missing in action last volume.  Squirrel Nut Zippers tell us that what was “Good Enough for Granddad” is good enough for us, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies tell us about their “Uncle Ray,” a song with a honky-tonk vibe which skirts dangerously to country, but never quite crosses the line.2

The third artist to solidify a 5-out-of-6 score is our old friend Lou Bega.  Now, Bega is often accused of having all his songs sound alike, and I will freely admit that the selection here is awfully similar to his mega-hit “Mambo No. 5.”3  But there are a few things worth noting here.  Firstly, the man is a self-styled mambo king, and there’s only so much variation you can achieve and still be singing mambo.  Secondly, even given all that, the album does have more diversity than Bega is generally given credit for: sure, several of the songs sound alike, but many of them show a lot more variety (as previous volumes have shown, I think).  Thirdly, I find it odd to accuse a man of too much sameness when he’s one of the two artists I think of as a one-person diversity committee:4 he’s a half-Italian, half-Ugandan performer of Latin music who first achieved fame in Germany singing in English.  But, finally, the most important point of all is that, if your one song is as good as Lou Bega’s is, you can sing it as many different ways as you damned well please.  And, in the end, “1+1=2” is just as awesome as “Mambo No. 5” regardless of how similar they sound.

Our final track from an artist who’s been with us from the beginning is from the Brian Setzer Orchestra, who did miss two of the previous volumes,5 but they still should be considered standards here.  “Gimme Some Rhythm Daddy” is from the BSO’s 8th studio album, which is the first not to include any covers at all.  I wish I could say that was a good thing, but I’m not sure it is ... “Gimme Some Rhythm Daddy” is probably the least silly song on the album, and even it has a few cringe-worthy moments.  But it’s a lovely, upbeat duet between Setzer and his wife, Julie Reiten, so I forgive it its trespasses.

The Atomic Fireballs have only been on 2 previous volumes, starting with volume III, and providing two songs for volume IV, including the closer.  They’re doing that for us again, with lead singer John Bunkley advising that we wash our “Caviar & Chitlins” down with scotch in his appropriately whiskey-soaked voice, which seems like good advice, if one were so inclined to mix the two.6  Likewise our old pals Reel Big Fish were only on two earlier volumes, but they haven’t been seen since volume II.  They return here with “Beer,” which is about as downbeat as RBF ever get (which is to say: not very).  Although the lyrics are a bit moreso than the music, but still it’s a workable tune for this mix.

Making their third appearances are Royal Crown Revue—still not my favorite, but “Beware” is a pretty snappy tune—and Lisa Stansfield, once again off the Swing soundtrack.  This one—“Watch the Birdie”—is another cover,7 the original being sung by Martha Raye for the film version of Hellzapoppin’ in 1941, but probably more famously covered by Gene Krupa that same year.  Still a fairly obscure track, but Stansfield does it very well, giving it a sultriness that none of the earlier versions had.8  It sets the tone admirably as our volume opener.

In the “where have those guys been?” category, we get the long-awaited return of Seatbelts from volume I, with another instrumental off the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack; whereas in the “didn’t we just meet them?” category, both Brass Action and Mocean Worker are back from their debuts last volume.  The too-little-known ska greats from Vancouver give us “The Handyman,” who can fix anything, and the DJ-and-remixer spins us another instrumental track that tells us to “Do Like Ya Like.”  And, filling out the “hey, I remember those guys!” category, Caro Emerald and Kid Creole and the Coconuts are back from their single appearances on volume III.  The latter give us our primary jolt of salsa-inflected pop9 with a song that’s not quite as good as “The Lifeboat Party,” but is a fun little ride nonetheless.  (For instance, it surely must be the only song to feature “onomatopoeia” as a musical refrain.10)  Likewise, it’s tough to beat Emerald’s “That Man,” but “Riviera Life” gives it a damn good run for its money.  Seriously: if this track doesn’t have you bobbing your head and snapping your fingers along with it by the end of your second listen-through at the latest, then I would go get your joy-meter checked, because it’s probably malfunctioning.

Our centerpiece this time out is an electro-swing combo of returning artist Caravan Palace and fresh face F.M. Einheit, who give us the deliciously sublime “Princess Crocodile.”  Utilizing Danish vocalist (singing in English) Gry Bagøien, this former member of proto-industrial greats Einstürzende Neubauten has moved into various forms of electronica, including, apparently, electro-swing, where he’s doing quite well, at least judging from this track.  That segues neatly into the decidedly not-electro low baritone of Leon Redbone, which I remember fondly from my misspent youth watching Saturday Night Live.  Most of Redbone’s œuvre is too old-fashioned for my tastes, but I’ve always had a soft spot for “Te Na Na,” so I dug it out and threw it in here.  For some reason it seems to flow beautifully off of Einheit, although they couldn’t be more different musically speaking.

After Redbone we hit a couple of the more obscure retro-swing bands: the Mighty Blue Kings,11 and Indigo Swing.12  Neither are anything to write home about in my opinion, but nearly every band is going to have one or two great songs, and these two are no exception.  “In the Night” is a slinky tune that celebrates night life in a way that I particularly appreciate, and “Drinkin’ It Up” is a smooth glass of something shaken, not stirred, and it also provides our volume title this time around.

Salsatic Vibrato VI
    [Dinner at Seven, Martinis at Five]

        “Watch the Birdie” by Lisa Stansfield, off Swing [Soundtrack]
        “Too Good Too Bad” by The Seatbelts, off Cowboy Bebop [Soundtrack]
        “I Like It” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, off Save My Soul
        “Good Enough for Granddad” by Squirrel Nut Zippers, off The Inevitable
        “1+1=2” by Lou Bega, off A Little Bit of Mambo
        “Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy” by Kid Creole and the Coconuts [Single]
        “Riviera Life” by Caro Emerald, off Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor
        “The Handyman” by The Brass Action, off Making Waves
        “Dramophone” by Caravan Palace, off Panic
        “Princess Crocodile” by F.M. Einheit [Single]
        “(Mama's Got a Baby Named) Te Na Na” by Leon Redbone [Single]
        “In the Night” by Mighty Blue Kings, off Meet Me in Uptown
        “Drinkin' It Up” by Indigo Swing, off All Aboard!
        “Beware” by Royal Crown Revue, off Walk on Fire
        “Subway Hustler” by Smokey Bandits, off Debut
        “Eat You” by Caravan of Thieves, off The Funhouse
        “Beer” by Reel Big Fish, off Turn the Radio Off
        “Everything Went Numb” by Streetlight Manifesto, off Everything Goes Numb
        “Gimme Some Rhythm Daddy” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, off Songs from Lonely Avenue
        “Uncle Ray” by Cherry Poppin' Daddies, off Soul Caddy
        “Do Like Ya Like” by Mocean Worker, off Candygram for Mowo!
        “Caviar & Chitlins” by The Atomic Fireballs, off Torch This Place
Total:  22 tracks,  73:43

Making their debut here are Smokey Bandits, whom we so far have seen only on Shadowfall Equinox.13  “Subway Hustler” showcases their more upbeat side: this instrumental starts out slow, but then settles into a groove with a complex drum rhythm underlying an interesting point-counterpoint between xylophone and trumpet.

And, finally, in the category of never-before-seen-here-or-anywhere-else (at least as far as my mixes go), we have two new bands.  The first is Streetlight Manifesto, which I discovered when I went looking to see if there were any really good ska bands that I’d missed.  I do this sometimes with various subgenres;14 it is in fact how I discovered the Might Blue Kings and Indigo Swing up above.  Like those bands for retro-swing, Streetlight Manifesto is not going to become my new favorite ska band or anything, but they’re quite well respected in hardcore ska circles, and they do have an occasional gem, such as “Everything Went Numb,” the almost-title-track off of their first album Everything Goes Numb.  The more interesting find, though, is Caravan of Thieves, the core of which is the husband-and-wife duo of Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni.  They describe their style as “gypsy-swing,” which, if it’s supposed to mean gypsy-jazz punched up with the slightly higher energy of swing, is a pretty apropos description.  I think this may well be the first song allowed on this mix without trumpet, saxopohne, trombone or clarinet (unless Caravan Palace snuck something in on me when I wasn’t looking), but listen to it and I think you’ll agree it fits right in here.

Next time around, it’s finally time to take a look at the first ever pre-modern mix.

Salsatic Vibrato VII


1 Only the second time I’ve managed that for this mix—the last time was Salsatic Vibrato III.

2 At least for me.  Your mileage may vary, of course.

3 A co-worker remarked on hearing this track that he supposed it wasn’t really ripping it off if you were only copying yourself.

4 The other is Azam Ali, who we shall meet properly in the fullness of time.

5 Specifically, volumes II and V.

6 I think what I love most about this song is Bunkley’s absolute commitment to the scotch.  He first rhymes it with lunch, which is a bit of a stretch, but then even when he needs a rhyme for things that sound absolutely nothing like “scotch”—like, “all day”—he’s still washing it down with scotch.  That’s dedication for you.

7 Although we’ve seen a Stansfield original off that soundtrack as well, over on Slithy Toves.

8 Raye’s original was solidly comedic, and Anita O’Day, singing with Krupa, didn’t stray far from that template (likely because Raye was admittedly her primary vocal influence, at last according to Wikipedia).

9 See, I told you we’d bring that back.

10 Note that the “misheard lyrics” site swears this line is actually “I don’t want to be your.”  I’m afraid I must call shenanigans on that.

11 Whom I’m pretty sure I discovered via the same retro-swing fan whose page introduced me to Swingerhead, as discussed back on volume II.

12 Whom I have no clue whatsoever how I discovered.

13 Specifically, on volumes II and IV.

14 As we’ll see in our next installment with electro-swing.

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