Sunday, January 10, 2021

Salsatic Vibrato VII

"The Devil in Your Eye"

[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.]

Last volume was the first of my mixes to debut a 6th volume, and Salsatic Vibrato stays in the lead by now being the first seventh volume.  It’s taken over three years for me to decide the volume was sufficiently complete and that I was ready to return to this brassy, upbeat territory, but I’ve been satisfied with it for a while now—I just didn’t want to skimp on my other musical tastes.  Which is not to say that there’s anything inferior about this volume: of the 14 artists (and one soundtrack) that have 4 or more tracks on a volume in this mix,1 all but two are represented here, and for those who have 5 or more, the coverage is 100%.  So this one is representative of all that have come before, but there are plenty of returning favorites who have been MIA for a while, and, most excitingly, some brand new finds to spice up the mix.  Let’s dive in.

The volume bursts into being with 3 of the top 5 artists for this mix, which means they’re 3 of my favorites.  First, it’s back to the best offering from the Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Dirty Boogie, with the title track from that great album.  Then straight to Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ swing compilation Zoot Suit Riot (which is probably their best) for “Dr. Bones.” Finally, it wouldn’t be Salsatic Vibrato without Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, so here they are.  I never thought This Beautiful Life, their second proper album,2 was as good as the ultra-classic Americana Deluxe, but there are some gems, including the opener of that album, “Big and Bad,” which here not only provides a strong finish for the power trio opening, but also our volume title.3  A sublime start.

But where are those other two of the top 5 artists, you may ask?  Well, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are not far behind with a track from their next-album-after-their-best-album-which-is-not-quite-as-good-but-still-pretty-damned-rockin’, Perennial Favorites, “Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter.” Like the other tunes we’ve heard from that album,4 this one has a touch of surrealism mixed with an experimental take on retro-hot-jazz.  And Lou Bega is also back: I’m still milking his best album (A Little Bit of Mambo), because honestly his later ablums are not “still pretty rockin’.” Many people accuse Bega of only knowing one song, which is almost true ... he actually knows 3 or 4.  “Tricky Tricky” will never be mistaken for anyone but Bega, but on the other hand it has just a touch of hip-hop flair that sets it apart from most of his other offerings.

Other returning favorites include the Atomic Fireballs, who provide our closer for the third time in this mix, Royal Crown Revue, back for the third time with their ode to the long-gone LA streetcar line, “Watts Local,” and the Swing soundtrack, with another great Lisa Stansfield remake of an almost forgotten tune from the big band era: “Blitzkrieg Baby.”5  But I think the real news here is the long overdue return of Joe Jackson’s Jummpin’ Jive, which was so important to volumes I and II.  “How Long Must I Wait for You” is one of those tunes that you might dismiss on first listen, but it really grows on you over time, and I thought it was high time it earned its place here.  Contrariwise, the often-goofy-but-never-bland Lee Press-On and the Nails have only been missing for one volume, but I’m still happy to have them back; “Hat Back Boogie” is fairly silly lyrically, but its sound is exactly what this mix is all about.

We’ve got more ska too: Save Ferris also hasn’t been seen since volume II, and they too are way overdue.  “Spam” is a fun little ditty—not as goofy as LPN, but I felt that it flowed very naturally after that track, and of course sets up beautifully for our other dependable ska stars, Reel Big Fish, who made their return to the mix last volume.  This time around, RBF would like you to know that “it’s not so bad bein’ trendy,” because, you know: “everyone who looks like me is my friend.” A great ska “party”-style tune with some great lyrics to boot.

But the real musical style on display here is electro-swing, which I started experimenting with back on volume III.  And we do have a few returning artists in this area, like Caro Emerald, with her peppy “Stuck,” and Caravan Palace, with their practically frenetic “Suzy.” But this volume marks the point where I really went on an active musical search to see what was out there that I had just never found before.  And, boy, did I come up with some real winners.  Like most electro-swing, it’s mostly European in origin: Tape Five is German, and their “Bad Boy Good Man” is absolutely infectious, plus it has an amazing video, which you should go watch right now; Parvo Stelar (who, to be fair, appeared on one earlier volume) is an Austrian producer who likes to put together modern tunes that sound like they’re being played on a scratchy record player (and “Booty Swing” is the best of these, in my opinion); Shazalakazoo is from Serbia, and their style ranges from electro-swing to something called folk-step to something reminiscent of the Balkan trip-hop-rap-ragga of Poland’s Psio Crew6but of course here I’m interested in the first of those, and “Sunny Side of the Street” is a highly electronic remix-remake of the old jazz standard “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (originally done by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Benny Goodman to Count Basie), barely recognizable here, but so addictively poppy that I defy you not to move your body when you hear it.

But the two finds that I’m most excited about are the Electric Swing Circus and Swing Republic.  The former is an amazing (and underrated, from what I can tell on the Internet) six-piece from Birminghan in the UK.  They have a number of amazing tracks (and, in fact we already saw one on Bleeding Salvador II), but probably the best is “Bella Belle,” who is, apparently, “soft and smooth like caramel.” This is just an amazing song, combining traditional swing brass with electronic beats and undercurrents, and vocals that trip and flow with dizzying proficiency.  Definitely check it out.  But I don’t want to sell short the other find here, Swing Republic, who I was so impressed with that they’re the only band who got 2 songs on the volume.  They meet my criteria for a moderately obscure band,7 and yet they’ve been around for nearly 10 years—that is to say, about as long as electro-swing itself.  They’re based in Denmark, but sing in English, with primarily female vocals, sprinkled with a few tracks which are essentially instrumental, although they often feature highly processed non-verbal voices.  Here I’ve given you one of each: “Mama” is an absolutely amazing tune which I use to introduce the electro-swing backbone of the volume, and “High Hat” is a more laid-back instrumental(ish) track which I used to close it out.  Following that there’s a short sax break from the Mighty Blue Kings, who we met last volume, then it’s back to the more traditional retro-swing for the closing block.

Salsatic Vibrato VII
[ The Devil in Your Eye ]

“The Dirty Boogie” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, off The Dirty Boogie
“Dr. Bones” by Cherry Poppin' Daddies, off Zoot Suit Riot [Compilation]
“Big and Bad” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, off This Beautiful Life
“Warriors” by Too Many Zooz, off Subway Gawdz
“Watts Local” by Royal Crown Revue, off Walk on Fire
“Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter” by Squirrel Nut Zippers, off Perennial Favorites
“Hat Back Boogie” by Lee Press-On and the Nails, off Swing Is Dead
“Spam” by Save Ferris, off It Means Everything
“Trendy” by Reel Big Fish, off Turn the Radio Off
“Quarter to Three” by Gary "U.S." Bonds [Single]
“Tricky, Tricky” by Lou Bega, off A Little Bit of Mambo
“Mama” by Swing Republic, off Midnight Calling
“Wizard Wheezes” by Nicholas Hooper, off Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince [Soundtrack]
“Bad Boy Good Man” by Tape Five, off Tonight Josephine!
“Booty Swing” by Parov Stelar, off The Princess
“Suzy” by Caravan Palace, off Caravan Palace
“Bella Belle” by The Electric Swing Circus, off The Electric Swing Circus
“Sunny Side of the Street” by Shazalakazoo [Single]
“Stuck” by Caro Emerald, off Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor
“High Hat” by Swing Republic, off Midnight Calling
“Tenor Madness” by Mighty Blue Kings, off Meet Me in Uptown
“How Long Must I Wait for You” by Joe Jackson, off Jumpin' Jive
“Blitzkrieg Baby” by Lisa Stansfield, off Swing [Soundtrack]
“Mata Hari” by The Atomic Fireballs, off Torch This Place
Total:  24 tracks,  78:02

And that just leaves us with 3 tracks in the “possibly unexpected” category.  I’ve used music from the Harry Potter movies in some interesting (but mostly expected) places so far, like Mystical Memoriam, Phantasma Chorale, and even on Classical Plasma, but I bet you never expected any to show up here, eh?  Well, “Wizard Wheezes” is from one of the later movies (specifically, Half-Blood Prince), composed by Nicholas Hooper, and it’s bright, and brassy, and a journey, and I couldn’t resist using it as a bridge.  The other two need a bit more examination.

Too Many Zooz started out playing in the subways of New York, until some videos of them went viral on YouTube.  They’re a trio: a trumpeter, a saxophonist, and a drummer ... but that doesn’t really begin to describe these guys.  The trumpet can hit soaring high notes that will send shivers down your spine, the sax is a baritone, a seldom heard instrument that gives us some fantastic low notes, and the “drummer” is one of those amazing percussionists who seems capable of keeping a beat on practically anything.  If you watch their videos,8 you’ll see that they also provide a contrast in motion: Doe and his trumpet hardly move at all, Leo P, even with the heavy baritone sax, seems like he can’t stop himself from dancing while playing, and King of Sludge, with his complicated drum rig, just bobs and flows in place, undulating his body as he keeps the beat.  They used Kickstarter to fund their first album, Subway Godz, which contains several tracks with hip-hop vocals, none of which speak to me, but, true to their busking roots, is mostly composed of instrumental tracks, some of which are just stunning.  “Warriors” is, I think, the best of these, starting with 5 staccato notes on the trumpet and sax, punctuated by silence, repeated a couple of times, then snapping fingers provides the initial beat while the notes start to flow together into a melody, then the whole thing just explodes into a full-throated euphonious fanfare.  It’s an experience, I promise.

Finally, a throwback to my childhood.  My father was a record collector, you see, specializing in early rock-n-roll from the fifties and sixties.  Although not a favorite, my dad always liked Gary “U.S.” Bonds, because he grew up not far from where we lived: he was the closest thing to a “local boy made good” for my father’s musical generation and geographical location.  His biggest hit was “Quarter to Three,” #1 in 1961, and listed among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.” It was essentially Bonds slapping some vocals onto an instrumental by the Church Street Five, which was the backing band put together by sax player “Daddy G” Barge.  You can hear both Daddy G and the Church Street Five called out specifically in the song (another fun fact: the band is named after the street that ran behind the Safeway in my hometown; I rode my bike down Church Street many a time).  The song was intentionally recorded “rough,” meaning with low production values so that it sounded like a bootleg of some guys just jamming out back behind the studio.  This was part of its charm, and, as the ultimate “party” song, I felt it was a beautiful follow-up to “Trendy.”9  But mainly it’s here because Daddy G’s sax is so smooth, and this is one of the earliest songs I can remember that taught me what brass can bring to a rock song.

Next time, we’ll travel out West (musically speaking).

Salsatic Vibrato VIII


1 So far.  Natch.

2 By which I mean I don’t count their first (of many) Christmas albums.

3 The other really good songs from that ablum we’ve already seen here: “I Wanna Be Like You” from Salsatic Vibrato IV and “I’m Not Sleepin’” from Salsatic Vibrato V.

4 E.g. “Suits are Picking Up the Bill” from Salsatic Vibrato II, but most especially “Ghost of Stephen Foster” from Salsatic Vibrato IV.

5 It was originally done by Una Mae Carlisle, who is a person I did not know existed until I researched this post, in 1940.  Or 1941—Internet sources differ, as Internet sources often do.

6 We first met the Psio Crew on Apparently World.

7 AllMusic knows they exist, but not much more, and Wikipedia is completely stumped.

8 This one is one of the best, in my opinion.

9 For more details on the origin of the song, check out this article from what was once one of the only two newspapers you could get regularly in the town where I grew up.

No comments:

Post a Comment