Various Artists: Songs That Made the Phone Light Up
A compilation package with an interesting twist: Joel Dorn, the mastermind behind the controversial (and great) Rhino boxes of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Mingus, Trane, et al, has collected 13 songs beloved of his listeners on WHAT-FM in Philadelphia during the Sixties. He explains that besides all being favorites of his audience, none of these songs were hits. He has a high regard for the taste of his listeners from those days, even crediting them with production of this disc. From the sound of things, he's right about them. Their tastes were eclectic, to be sure, but solid.
Austin Cromer kicks things off with a smooth "Over the Rainbow," backed by Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band. Cromer is fine, though we don't hear from the Diz himself. Next we take a sharp turn with Oscar Brown, Jr.'s savagely ironic "Forty Acres and a Mule," which is basically a proto-rap over a fat bass line. Sharp turn again into Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley's "Save Your Love for Me." It's over all too soon (just over two-and-a-half minutes), but it's a great treat to hear Wilson's clear voice and the Cannon's thoroughly sympathetic figures behind her.
King Pleasure's voice is rougher, of course, but just as appealing in its own way, on "It Might as Well Be Spring." Hearing him sing those horn lines never gets tiring and he does it to tremendous effect here. His only weakness is being followed by Dinah Washington ("Look to the Rainbow") who may have had one of the most beautiful voices ever.
Joe Williams' "A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry" sports an intriguing string-reed introduction and striking instrumentation throughout. And Williams? As on target as always. Likewise Lou Rawls, stretching out a little on the blues "World of Trouble." Jesse Belvin's "Imagination" features some atmospheric muted trumpet (but from whom?). Etta Jones' "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" recalls Billie; Lambert Hendricks and Ross recall (of course) King Pleasure, but their track, "Gimme That Wine," is more R&B-ish. "I can't get well without muscatel" oh man, are some things harder to get away with now than they were in the Sixties!
Jimmy Rushing walks along with Brubeck on "River Stay Away from My Door." Brook Benton's syrup flows on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." Lorenz Alexandria takes Hoagy Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole" at a brisk pace, with searing emotional effect. She sounds a bit like Roberta Flack.
So what we have here is a cross-section of vocal jazz from the Sixties-a fascinating, solid, and thoroughly enjoyable document. Kudos to Dorn and the WHAT listeners.