ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Rydell, The Great Ones

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.

CONCERT: Melinda Doolittle, She’s a Christmas Woman

Last Tuesday I had the privilege of seeing Melinda Doolittle in concert. I have been waiting years to see her in person. Many of you will remember her from season 6 of American Idol where she was the third runner-up.

Melinda DoolittleNeedless to say, the minute she was voted off, I turned off the TV and went to my room. I have never watched an episode of American Idol since.

So when they announced Melinda was coming to OKC to do her Christmas show I was elated. I have all her recordings and I have been keeping up with her since 2009. I bought tickets the moment they went on sale.

Anybody that has heard Melinda knows how immaculate her voice is. Her voice is as strong as a brick, yet as emotional as your mother on graduation day. She possess the soul of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross combined, topped off with a sprinkle of Melinda’s own sass.

(And of course I’m super proud to call her my fellow Okie. She is a graduate of Tulsa Union High School.)

There wasn’t a single Christmas carol or tune left out of the entire show. She took the audience on a journey from winter wonderlands to the manger of Jesus. Her powerful journey took us through “Winter Wonderland,” “All I Want for Christmas,” “Mary Did You Know?,” amongst many others. I could write over every song she sang, but that would make this post nearly a novel.

Here are my favorites and greatest takeaways from her flawless show:

  1. IMG_1586“God Bless Us Everyone.” This was one of her beginning numbers. This is a song
    she cowrote. She sings of love, joy, and peace for all families and how Christmas is a time where everything is brand new. This song really focused on the family and the renewing spirit of the season. It’s just beautiful.
  2. “Home” from the Wiz. Melinda sings this song like it is meant to be sung, an emotional ballad longing for the love that only home can provide. At the beginning of the song, she treats the lyrics with childlike vulnerability and by the end of the song, she has gained the confidence on where home really is. Her rendition is sure to give you chills. This was one of her first performances on American Idol.
  3. “O Holy Night.” Melinda proclaimed this is one of her favorite Christmas tunes of all time. She took a seat next to the piano and sang this song completely stripped down. Her voice painted the nativity and took you there through both the soft touch of a baby with the strength of the King of Kings.
  4. “Mary Did You Know?” She opened with this song right after intermission. Everybody was quickly right back in the show. She gave this song nearly the same treatment she gave “O Holy Night,” yet this time she was full of confidence and undeniable faith. The moments where she had to lean back from the mic due to the power of her voice, nearly made the walls shake. This song must be recorded.
  5. “All I Want for Christmas”/ Diana Ross smash-up. Melinda told the audience that IMG_1585while everyone wanted to be Mariah Carey during school, she was over in the corner listening to Motown and Diana Ross. She opened this song with her best Mariah Carey impression, which was nearly spot on, and ended the song with lyrics from various Ross and Supremes songs (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Stop, In The Name of Love”). This was pure entertainment and fun.
  6. “I Am Woman” She told us after she had seen Rod Stewart sing “Love Train” at the Rockefeller tree lighting while proclaiming it’s a Christmas train, that she felt she could now sing any song and make it Christmas. Talk about attitude and a full soul, rock, r&b performance! She gave her all in telling everybody that she will give them the shivering fits while she gets grits in the pan. She walked around the whole auditorium as she sang this one. A true performer willing to entertain her audience.
  7. “Drummer Boy.” Now we all know this as a traditional Christmas song, but let’s be honest, what does it mean? Even Melinda can’t figure it out. Well, she decided to do a special version by the reknowned artists Justin Bieber and Busta Rymes. All I have to say is yes, Melinda can rap with the best of them.

These are just a few of the songs that stuck out to me. The show was nearly two hours long with a 20 minute intermission. I didn’t even get a chance to mention her golden gown and glitzy jumper.

One of the greatest aspects of this show was Melinda being Melinda. She shared stories and accolades from her ventures through American Idol to personal stories with her family and friends. Melinda was very expressive of her faith in God and how this is the season to celebrate Jesus’ birth (something we need to see more of). She held nothing back and her pure personality shined through. Her show isn’t staged, it’s lived.

To my delight after the show, Melinda came out to sign autographs and meet her fans. I came with her first album insert in tow ready to prove I’ve been a fan since the beginning. As I walked up to the table for her to sign my items she looks at me and asked “Aren’t you the one that tweets me?”

I almost thought I was about to get security called on me.

IMG_1579 (1)We then proceeded to talk about our tweets and we declared ourselves BFFs. She signed everything for my mom and I and continually thanked us for our support of her throughout her career. My mom and I took a picture with Melinda, then she said get one of her and “her Gabe.” It was a priceless moment for me. She is in my top 5 singers and to be recognized by her meant the world.

I can not clearly verbalize my thoughts on Melinda’s concert. My words do not do the concert complete justice. This was the only concert I have ever attended that I wish had a back button, so I could hear certain songs over again.

What is different about Melinda now compared to her American Idol days is that now Melinda can be completely herself. There was no pomp and circumstance. It was just her and her band. That was all that was needed. The band was extraordinary, and Melinda’s vocals were brilliant. She is one of the greatest vocalist of the 21st century.

If you ever have the chance you MUST see her live. It will renew your faith in music and remind you that there are still real performers out there. Melinda is atop the list.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go tweet my new bestie.