What I Learned at Rydell High

Before there was tween boy bands, glee clubs, and Justin Bieber there was Bobby Rydell.  To be honest there really isn’t much of a comparison, but that puts him in modern language.

I stumbled upon Rydell on YouTube. I was searching the song “My Coloring Book” and he was the only male version of the song I could find. This is one of my favorite songs and Rydell’s version is often overlooked, but it is one of the best. After this encounter I immediately began searching for his records at all my vinyl stops.

FullSizeRender 7One of my first finds was Bobby Rydell…Salutes The “Great Ones.” Rydell was only 19  years old when he released this album. As the liner notes state, he was already a staple on such TV shows as the Perry Como TV shows and Red Skeleton shows as well as a sought after act at The Copa and The Sahara. Not to mention he had already garnered 4 top ten hits.

This album by Rydell takes an interesting turn in his small yet accomplished catalog. Saluting the greats that came before you is not just honorable, but it is quite daring. He was setting himself up for failure. He was singing songs that only the greats, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland sang with Broadway standards sprinkled in. How could he compare?

Rydell decided to play by his own rules, translating these songs into a “1961” vibe.

He opens the album with Al Jolson’s “Mammy.” A song that has been adapted in many different compositions. This is essentially a melted down version of “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” He gives this song a boyish charm with a more modest aura.

He then goes into Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic.” There is never another Sinatra, but Rydell again accomplishes this song with ease accompanied by a more rhythmic backing. He concludes side A with the Gypsy anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Taking on Ethel Merman is like teetering off a cliff, but he did it with debonair and classic charm instead of Merman’s usually brashness.

FullSizeRender 6Side B contains some real gems starting with the Steve Allen penned “This Could Be The Start of Something New.” Again, Rydell’s arrangers placed the song at a speeder tempo. Instead of the gentler and special aura that only Ella Fitzgerald could give this song, Rydell gives this tune a remix worthy of American Bandstand or Shindig. The same concept can be found in his renditions of “So Rare” and “There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”

By the end of the album, Rydell easily wrapped all the ladies around his finger with “The Birth of The Blues.” This song demands answers with its perfectly timed pauses and the way Rydell places the lyrics in a “questionable” phrase. I think there were a few girls fainting at the foot of the stage.

This album is a perfect reflection of what was happening in music culture in 1961. Rockabilly was starting to hit and all the churches were worried about this new “rhythmic” music. The classic pop style of the greats was being placed on the back burner for this new rock and roll experiment.

Rydell attempts to touch both these audiences with this album. His crooning singing style fit in perfectly with the Dean Martins and Jack Jones’ of the time, yet he knew there was something else on the horizon. Although this album may not have been a huge success it is reflection of the development of music and the confusion that both artists and record companies were going through in this transitional time.

This album proposes an idea. It was experimental at the time when experiments were shunned. Rydell’s album not only serves as listening pleasure, but as an artifact of the evolution of modern music. Basically he gave the Great American Songbook and a light, but daring, Rockabilly twist.

The Scruff After The Shave

I remember the first time I ever heard Neil Diamond. Actually, wait, no I don’t. For as long as I can comprehend there was Neil Diamond. He was not one of those artists that captivated me when I was young, yet I always knew he was somebody important. I was certain he was of legendary status, but I just never explored his music.

FullSizeRender 2Neil Diamond is much like the “American Popular Song,” the first track off of his album You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. Diamond’s catalog and musical genius goes on and on. This album truly encompasses Diamond’s raw talent in the middle of his biggest days.

This vinyl also contains the Diamond classic “Forever in Blue Jeans.” This is a song for summer. With its light guitar and uptempo beat, it reminds me of a warm summer afternoon with that special someone. It strips love of all its complexities into a simple afternoon in blue jeans.

This albums next milestone comes with Diamond’s version of “You’ve Got Troubles.” His rendition of this song comes with all the Diamond charm, including those scruffy vocals, and a riveting piano line, yet it is mixed with a slight disco/ folk feel. I could easily roller skate or protest to this song.

After these light-hearted songs of love and troubles comes the pinnacle of this album and one of the finest songs that Neil Diamond had a hand in composing. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a duet with Barbra Streisand, has been a long time favorite of mine. I find it to be the companion piece to Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’s “Endless Love.” These songs together show both extremes of romance, yet they can flow in and out of each other.  Streisand’s vocals flow effortlessly over the piano and strings, but Diamond’s vocals provide the concrete of the song.

FullSizeRender 3One can feel the angst in his voice as he contemplates the idea of separation, and he is placing himself in a vulnerable position. It’s clear the downfall of this relationship lies with both sides, yet it is sprung by the simplest situation. They simply no longer bring flowers home anymore, a metaphor that can mean many things. This song is about the spark in a relationship that is essential through little actions and what it means when they go undone.

As one flips this album they are immediately met with a pure dance anthem, “The Dancing Bumble Bee/Bumble Boogie.” This song is composed of pure funk arrangements with a spinning disco ball in mind. This tune insists you must dance.

The listener is then confronted with an eerie and light guitar rift that turns into a dramatic menagerie with “Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons.” This song makes me picture the pilgrims landing on Plymouth in bell bottoms and crop tops coming down the Mayflower with a little boogie. Not a bad idea.

The last three songs on this album are solely written by Diamond. The biggest gem from this trilogy is “Diamond Girls.” It’s a Diamond power ballad with a major disco bass line that tells the story of a girl giving her all for the sake of her dreams and a better life. This is Diamond’s version of Gentry’s (or McEntire’s) “Fancy.”

IMG_2108Diamond is in all his glory with this album. He encompasses many emotions from the air of an uptempo disco party to the trampling of flowers. What I find most intriguing about this album though is his vocal performance. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers really brings Diamond’s voice to fruitionI’ve listened to him many times, but I have now finally pinpointed exactly what his voice mirrors.

Diamond’s vocals are essentially the scruff you get hours after a good shave. His voice is crisp and clean yet it possess a grit. A man can never fully rid himself of this issue, just like Diamond has been in music forever. One cannot quite get a hold of those tiny 5 o’clock shadow hairs either, just like one cannot pinpoint Diamond’s voice, writings, and longevity.

Diamond’s music is timeless. His writings are authentic. He is a pillar in the evolution of music.

He is the scruff after the shave where it gets real.

 

Until Then We Have Steve and Eydie

Before there was Kim and Kanye or Beyonce and Jay-z, there was Stevie and Eydie.

FullSizeRenderI discovered Eydie Gorme a few years ago when my mom stumbled upon her solo album, Don’t Go to Strangers. I was immediately hooked to Gormé’s vocals. Her vocals go every where, moving from high to low and then side to side. I’m pretty sure they reach uncharted terriotory. She can equally convey humor as easy as she can strike you with a ballad. Gormé is easily one of the greatest vocalist of the 21st century.

Next, I first learned of Steve Lawrence through a few Steve and Eydie albums, until the day I found his 1962 solo album, Winners! I became a fan almost instantly when I heard his renditions of “Who’s Sorry Now?” and “Moon River.” It was a different side of Lawrence that I had not picked up on in his duets with Gormé.

Together they were an anomoly. When listening to Steve and Eydie it is easy to tell that they are the pinnacle of celebrity, musical duos. Gormé and Lawrence remained married until Gormé’s death in 2013. One can sense the love they had for each other when listening to their recordings. The songs they sing don’t even need words. They could simply speak gibberish and still convey the love they had for each other.

FullSizeRender 2This love is evident on a compilation album I found at a thrift store on Sunday. This album, The Longines Symphonette Society Proudly Presents Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé Together, gives the listener the tip of their heart-shaped iceberg. The album begins with the budding love song, “This Could Be The Start of Something” and quickly turns to their humorous sides with “I Remember it Well” (my personnel favorite) and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.”

Side B keeps the love alive with their Grammy award-winning song, “We Got Us.” The duo then shows off their acting chops with the semi-breakup, 50’s do wop inspired “You Can’t Be True, Dear.” This showed their talent of delivering a song regardless of content. The album concludes with the Christmas staple “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is easily one of the best renditions of this song recorded.

Looking through my collection I realized that I have many of Steve and Eydie’s duet albums, but this one gives the best summary of their performances. Hopefully one day we can all experience a love like theirs. Until then, we have their recordings to give us a glimpse of what’s to come.

 

Grandma, Tell Me About The Good Ol’Days

“He [Doolittle Lynn] said every one of ’em was a hit…..shoot it was a hit and miss.”

This quote comes from the beginning of Loretta Lynn’s new album, Full Circle, from the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself. She claimed her husband (Doolittle Lynn) insisted every song she ever wrote was a hit. Loretta didn’t agree.

But everybody can be wrong sometimes.

Lynn and her late husband Doolittle.

Lynn and her late husband Doolittle.

It has been over 10 years since Lynn has released an album of new material. Her last album, Van Lear Rose, was released in 2004. It was produced by Jack White and had great commercial and critical success. It is one of her most profound works, but her fans and the country music crowd are not writing Lynn off any time soon. Her new album is met with anticipation and excitement.

As a long time Lynn devotee I was counting down the days since she first confirmed she would be releasing a new album. I have nearly every album Lynn has made (I am only missing 1!). I’ve seen her in concert and have spent hundreds of dollars on memorabilia. Once the release date came I contacted my local record store to see if they received this new gem on vinyl.

They immediately put it behind the counter for me to come purchase. They have lived with me through my Lynn pilgrimage. This is serious business.

I rushed home once I purchased this record and immediately put it on my turntable. It’s safe to say it was love at first spin.

The album opens with a conversation between Lynn and what I assume is her producers John Carter Cash (Johnny Cash and June Carter’s son) and Patsy Lynn Russell (Lynn’s Daughter), and various studio musicians. She easily recalls the first song she ever wrote, “Whispering Sea” taking the listener back to the beginning of her career. She then opens this album with a modern version of “Whispering Sea.”

74282205-x600It has been 56 years since Lynn first recorded this song. It was the B side to her first single “Honky Tonk Girl.” I went back and listened to the orignal recording to compare it to her new version. Both versions are excellent in both composition and deliverance. The first version portrays a naive and vulnerable spirit whereas today’s version has elements of maturity, grace, and wisdom. It’s profound what happened here and to think this was the first song! This same element is heard in her remakes of “Everybody Want’s to Go to Heaven” and “Fist City.”

The album proceeds into a new composition, “Secret Love.” This song sounds like it could be off of her first album. She then sings a song entitled “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” This is a simple answer, everybody. Lynn was one of the primary writers of this song and the listener is once again met with a tone and deliverance that sounds so fresh it could come from one of her first albums, yet it shows the continued humility Lynn possess. This is what I believe has sustained her in the music industry and what has fueled her staying power.

The answer to the question this song asks “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?” is a hard one to answer. Lynn will have listeners from the past, present, and future miss her. Her music is immortal and her wisdom is timeless. So whos gonna miss her? It will forever be impossible to answer.

Next we are met with a story song, “Black Jack David.” There are three chief story tellers in country music, Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Reba McEntire. All three tell their stories differently, but each one makes you live their tale. Wrapping up Side A is Lynn’s version of the classic song, “Always on My Mind.” Lynn gives a rousing performance that I feel reminiscences on her life. It reminds me of her late husband and her children and the love she has for her entire family. That’s who she talks to in her spiritual and encompassing performance of this classic ballad.

Loretta_Lynn_022_V2Side B contains the new tunes, “Wine Into Water,” the spiritual “In The Pines,” and “Band of Gold.” These again sound as fresh as Lynn’s first recordings, but they encompass that same wisdom to her listeners. The greatest takeaways from Side B are her duets with Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson.

First, she duets with Elvis Costello on “Everything it Takes.” This is your classic country song talking of love lost to another woman. It is a lecture to her man about how his new woman will “take everything he’s got.” This track that could be easily taken from her 1966 album, You Ain’t Woman Enough.

Lastly, she duets with her fellow country legend, Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down.” This song is classic gold. This song talks about the contentment both performers feel in the life they have led. There’s a sense of spirit and deftness this song brings to the listener that I have never felt before. Both singer’s vocals easily glide over the melody with confidence and breadth. This is a piece of country gold from some of the last real country survivors. This songs a treasure chest that you get something new out of with each listen.

To be honest, I was expecting something amazing with this album, but I was not expecting it to place me in a musical trance. This album completely takes over your spirit as you travel through it. It is full of emotions, strife, triumph, strength, and accomplishment, but the most important quality this album exemplifies is wisdom.

loretta-lynn-full-circle-cover-413x413This album is your mom, grandmother, or mentor simply sitting in their chair telling you of their life and what they have done. They tell you all about the good times and they never shy away from giving advice, yet they don’t shield you from the downtimes. This album is simply life as narrated by Loretta Lynn.The title of the album, Full Circle, describes the journey these songs take you on while visiting old habits and discovering new gems.

This is just the first album of nearly 96 new recordings Lynn has made. It is dubbed as “Volume One of The Cash Cabin Recordings.” I am already eagerly awaiting volume 2. It’s just the story the Judds told us about grandpa, but now it’s grandma’s turn. Grandma’s are the sale of the earth and this grandma has just begun talking.

And as we all know, you never tell Grandma to hush unless you want to go to fist city.