Ron's Swing CD Reviews

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Compilations - A to I J to R S to Z

Fats Domino - The Fats Domino Jukebox, 20 Greatest Hits (EMI/Capitol - 2002) 
Reviewed: 1 June 2002.  Ratings: **, LL
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Fats Domino sold more records than any other black rock and roll star of the 50's.  He plays boogie-woogie piano.  Most of the songs were written by Fats and producer Dave Bartholomew.  Songs were recorded from 1950 to 1961.  The sound on this collection is excellent.  Although Fats didn't have the exhuberance of Little Richard, for example, the songs are more interesting, musically, in my opinion. They are still simple songs fundamentally, however.  There are excellent short, tight sax solos on many of the songs. The rhythm of most of the songs is a shuffle rhythm that works for swing dancing.  He sings lots of ballads, like his famous "Blueberry Hill" (92 BPM).  
Felix & the Buzzcats - Meowzaaa! (1999) 
Reviewed: 24 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LL
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Great stuff from this band, if you like a modern neo-swing sound.  Band is from Orlando, Florida.  The songs are fun, up tempo, vocal songs, and should have mass appeal, like Mighty Blue Kings songs do. The male vocalist is good.  The band is given room to solo.  They have a full sound with 9 members, with especially tight horns.  The sound is so clear, and everything is dead on.  The songs are mostly originals, a couple covers.  A lot of pop jump blues songs.  This is a serious band, with a very slickly produced CD packaging to prove it.  I know this has nothing to do with this CD, but I saw them recently in concert as well.  (A album review and show review for the price of one!)  It was a disappointing turnout for the show in this swing backwater town of San Diego.  Most people missed out on an excellent show.  Their loss was my gain, in terms of dance floor space.  If they come to your town, don't miss them, but watch out for a really long break followed by a few lame songs in their second set.  Their first set was excellent.  OK, back to the CD.  A lot of the song tempos are fast at 175 to 200 BPM.  Includes a couple of ballads, too. 
Rachelle Ferrell - Live in Montreux 91-97 (Blue Note Records - 2002) 
Reviewed: 22 Oct. 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at
The song "You Send Me" (144 BPM) really sends me.  Excellent groovy jazz. Seriously groovy bass line. Her improvisations are wild.  Sometimes too wild for me, but you may be into it.  Her voice is powerful, dynamic; soaring and soothing at different times.  She plays an set of songs that are half originals and half songs I mostly don't know, and that is refreshing.  I've read that her range is over 6 octaves, and that I can believe.  
Five Red Caps - 1943-1945 (Flyright Records - 1996) 
Reviewed: 19 May 2002.  Ratings: **, LL
This band did tight harmonies, and were superceded by Steve Gibson and the Five Red Caps who were much better.  Cute songs, nothing special.  They remind me of Slim Gaillard a little bit.  
Ella Fitzgerald - Summary  
Updated: 24 April 2000. 
Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the greatest jazz singer of all time.   She was very versatile, her voice was so warm and full, her intonation and rhythm sense always dead on.  Everyone should own at least one Ella CD.  However, there's so many Ella Fitzgerald CDs out there, I thought this summary might be useful.  These are the following key periods for Ella, and the key or representative albums (not all reviewed):

Most collections only cover one of these periods of her career, usually corresponding to songs recorded with the same record label.  Many of the collections within a period have a lot of overlap. Something to Live For is a new 2-CD collection spanning both her Decca and Verve years and is probably worth looking into.  Watch out for her later stuff and albums she recorded with orchestras, not bands.

If I were to start from scratch, I'd buy these Ella Fitzgerald albums first, in roughly this order:

Ella Fitzgerald - Ella & Basie (On the Sunny Side of the Street) (Verve - 1963) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999, Updated 1 Oct. 2000.  Ratings: *****, LLLL 
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This CD is a big "Wow".  This CD really swings.  These are jazz standards, performed by the queen herself in her prime.  Her voice is wonderful. The arrangements give plenty of room for Basie's band to shine.  I love this CD!  The band perfectly complements Ella in all the songs, staying understated when it needs to be, and loud and brassy when it's time for some punch.  Of the 12 songs, four are the tempos: 120, 135, 115, 125--prime slow groovy Lindy material. My favorites are those in that range: "Deed I Do" (120 BPM), "I'm Beginning to See the Light" (115 BPM), and "Shiny Stockings" (125 BPM).  Four more are slow ballads, but also excellent.  Two uptempo songs are great, as well: "Honeysuckle Rose" (190 BPM) and "Them There Eyes" (170 BPM).  Listen to her scat!  I'm trying to skim through my CDs while I write these reviews on my computer, but I can't bear to take this one out!  The average tempo is  too slow to allow a perfect Lindy rating.  This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD. 
Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb - Swingsation (1998) 
Reviewed: 16 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, L 
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These tracks mostly feature early-Ella, recorded in the mid to late 1930's, she had joined Webb's big band as a teenager.    It is very interesting to hear Ella when she was so young, to know that she is only going to get better and better.  Lots of really fast songs, here, too, the slowest is 150 BPM!  The sound quality is very poor to me, lacking depth, clarity and dynamics.  But noise reduction has been done, so it could be worse.  I can imagine this CD really appealing to some.  These songs are clearly meant for dancing.  Webb's band swings hard. 
Ella Fitzgerald - More Priceless Jazz (1998) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, L 
See CD at
This is the album where I learned to love Ella.  Her voice melts and relaxes, and causes many smiles.  Mostly recorded from 1949 to 1955, during her years at Decca before she started her famous years with Verve.  These songs are mostly too slow or sparse of rhythm to dance to.  Even slow dancing is more interesting at tempos higher than the 65 to 75 BPM typical here for the slow songs.  But this doesn't detract from the collection.  Highlights in general are "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (145 BPM), "Hard-hearted Hannah" (105 BPM), and "Black Coffee" (75 BPM).  Now I just need a honey to slow-dance to Ella with in my living room... 
Ella Fitzgerald - Priceless Jazz (1997) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LL 
See CD at
This is another excellent collection of songs from her years at Decca, recorded 1938 to 1955.  Once again, her voice and  intonation is perfect, and those low notes are so pretty.  The songs are faster, on average, than the other Priceless collection, and more songs have a band backing her, instead of a combo.  But I like the songs slightly better, and the sound quality is better, on the other collection. 
Ella Fitzgerald - Oh Lady be Good!  Best of Gershwin Songbooks (1959) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, L 
See CD at
I like Ella Fitzgerald, but its hard to find the CDs of hers that swing.  She recorded a lot of ballads.  This CD is filled with them, with string orchestration.  Even the standards you think might be good are not the best versions, like "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is not the great Ella/Louis Armstrong version. Yawn.  A mistake if you are looking for swing songs, but that's one of the reasons I provide these reviews.  I do like "Fascinatin Rhythm" (120 BPM) a lot. 
Ella Fitzgerald - First Lady of Song (Verve - 1993) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings:  *****, LLLL 
See CD at
How do you decide which Ella to buy?  So many choices!  This is many people's  first choice, and justifiably so.  The single CD is a "best-of" collection from her years at Verve, recorded from 1956 to 1963.  (The Swingsation collection covers her early years with Chick Webb; Priceless Jazz, her years with Decca).  Here she sings some fast ones, some slow ones, some from the songbooks, some with Louis Armstrong.  All excellent quality recordings.  She gets the most out of every note, hanging without dragging.  Besides a lot of ballads, there are quite a few songs that you can dance to, especially "Blue Skies" (160 BPM), "Too Young for the Blues" (140 BPM), "You're an Old Smoothie" (130 BPM) and "Don't Be That Way" (120 BPM).  Also "Deed I Do" (115 BPM) which is also on Ella & Basie!
Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Swings Lightly (1958) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LLLL 
See CD at
I do love Ella.  Here she has a good big band backing her, so many of the songs swing well.  Best for dancing include "Teardrops from My Eyes" (140 BPM), "You're an Old Smoothie" (130 BPM), "720 in the Books" (140 BPM) and, for slow dancing," Knock Me a Kiss" (90 BPM).  Good breaks in many of these songs.  Too many ballads, as usual, but she sure knows how to do them.
Ella Fitzgerald - Rhythm Is My Business (1962) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: *, L 
See CD at
How do I decide which Ella to buy?  Sometimes randomly, by the name, in this case by the word "Rhythm" in the title.  It was a mistake.  The sound is terrible.  I also don't like the occasional use of the organ, the echo chamber sound of the big band, the overly-loud horns, and the arrangements.    Ella Swings Lightly is so much better. 
Ella Fitzgerald - Get Happy! (Verve - 1959) 
Reviewed: 21 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ***, L 
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I should really stop buying Ella CDs, I have so many already.  But she's so good!  This one is OK.
Ella Fitzgerald - The Harold Arlen Songbook, Vol. 1 (Verve - 1961) 
Reviewed: 26 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: **, L
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I think I'd read that this CD swings more than the other songbooks.  In most songs she's backed by Billy May's band.  Her voice sounds as dreamy and as perfect as ever, but I just didn't find as many songs that I really like.  And there are quite a few that are either undanceable string orchestra ballads, or undanceable mixed-tempo songs. This CD does include a good danceable version of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" (140 BPM) and "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive" (125 BPM).
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong - Best of (Verve - 1997) 
Reviewed: 26 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LL
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For someone who wants to buy a Ella/Louis collection, there are a lot of choices.  You could of course get the box set and get all their songs (3 albums worth).  But if you want to buy a single CD collection either this CD or the Compact Jazz collection (below) attempts to compile the best songs from the three albums Ella and Louis recorded together in 1956 and 1957.  This one is has more of their slow ballads and is missing a few of their best tunes.  Everyone loves the first song on this collection: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (120 BPM) with the lyrics "You say 'either', I say 'I-ther'..."  There's 15 songs, 68 minutes worth of music.  The songs are so sweet, playful.  The combination of these two jazz greats is delightful.  Ella's smoothness and Armstrong's raspiness sound so well together.  Besides singing, Armstrong plays trumpet occasionally.  Unfortunately, the rest of the songs aren't as good for dancing as the first.  Only three of the 15 are faster in tempo, most are ballads.  Many are good for slow dancing, to be sure, like "Love is Here to Stay" (100 BPM), and "Under a Blanket of Blue" (95 BPM).  I know the two 'L' rating is a stretch, but I awarded it just because I think "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is so perfect.
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong - Compact Jazz (Verve - 1988) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: ****, LL
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This is a different compilation of the best Ella/Louis tunes.  This collection contains 12 tunes, 57 minutes worth of music.  This collection includes five of the best songs on the above 1997 Best-Of Verve collection including "They Can't Take..", "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "Gee Baby.."  But this collection also includes "Cheek to Cheek" (125 BPM), "A Fine Romance" (172 BPM), "I Won't Dance" (177 BPM) and "Can't We Be Friends" (114 BPM) (also on the 1st Lady of Song Best-Of CD) and so is in general more up-tempo, more interesting, and better for dancing than the other collection.  Yes, that's Oscar Peterson on piano backing them up.
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong - Ella & Louis Again (Verve - 1957) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
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This collection was the 2nd of 3 albums the two did together.  It has 12 songs, 54 minutes worth of music.  It contains six of the same songs as the Compact Jazz collection including "Let's Call...", "Gee Baby..." This collection has "They All Laughed" (117 BPM) which is danceable and not on either of the other collections.  And it has "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" (220 BPM) which is on the Best-Of, but not Compact Jazz, but isn't that great really and too fast for dancing anyway.  All in all, if you are looking for a single CD compilation of Ella & Louis, I recommend Compact Jazz.  If you are a completist and want all their songs, get the box set.  This collection doesn't contain the lavish orchestral versions the two did of the slow Gershwin tunes "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So".
Ella Fitzgerald - Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (1988) 
Reviewed: 4 Oct. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL
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This is Christmas music that you can dance to.  Can't wait to play it when I DJ!  There's only 35 minutes of songs recorded in 1960 here, but its almost all good.  Ella has emphasized the fun, non-religious songs, and she sings the songs fairly straight to the traditional melody lines. I like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (115 BPM), "Sleigh Ride" (150 BPM), "The Christmas Song" (80 BPM), "Winter Wonderland" (115 BPM), "Rudolph..." (120 BPM), oh heck, its all good.  I don't know how to rate this CD.
Ella Fitzgerald - Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook  (Verve - 1999) 
Reviewed: 21 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, L
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This box set contains 3-CDs, packed full of music, one of which has rehearsals and alternate takes.  The liner notes are extensive. Recorded 1956 and 1957.  Great music here.  Many of the songs are with Ellington's band itself.  And with both Ella and Duke, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Hodges and the rest of Duke's band, how could the music not be great?  Other songs are with small groups featuring Ben Webster and others.  Too many ballads in general, for my taste, though!  (2/3 rds of the songs).  Of the non-ballads, I like "I'm Beginning to See the Light" (134 BPM), "E and D Blues" (167 BPM), "Everything But You" (115 BPM),
Ella Fitzgerald - The Jazz Sides / Jazz Masters 46 (Verve - 1995) 
Reviewed: 24 April 2000.  Ratings: ****, LLL
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This selection of 16 songs is a great sampling of Ella's jazzier recordings for Verve.  Many are pulled from the songbooks.  Others from the albums Ella and Louis, Ella & Basie, Ella Swings Lightly, Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie, and others.  Because this is Ella, there's a lot of beautiful slower songs.  Great selection of songs, more fantastic singing by Ella.  Some songs so beautiful, they make me shiver, like "One More for the Road" (60 BPM).  There's no overlap of songs with the First Lady of Song Verve collection.  The best for dancing are "Them There Eyes" (170 BPM), "Jersey Bounce" (132 BPM), and "Its Only a Paper Moon" (129 BPM).  
Ella Fitzgerald - Pure Ella, The Very Best Of (Verve - 1997) 
Reviewed: 24 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at
This is yet another collection from Verve.  (Do not confuse this the same-named collection from Decca.)  This has 18 songs from 15 different albums she recorded with Verve between 1957 and 1965.  Once again, there's no overlap of songs between this collection and the First Lady of Song, and the Jazz Sides Verve compilations.  There are more ballads, orchestral versions, live recordings, and non-swing songs than the other two collections.  I don't like the song selections as much as many of the other Ella collections.
Ella Fitzgerald - Ultimate Ella (Polygram/Verve - 1997) 
Reviewed: 24 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
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This collection was chosen by singer Joe Williams.  Having other artists select songs of other artists is a gimmick and excuse to make another "best-of" collection.    The songs he selected were recorded 1949 to 1965.  His choices are good, but there are too many ballads and orchestral versions for my taste. It does have some overlap with some of the other Ella collections.  I like "Too Close for Comfort" (136 BPM) with both Ella and Joe singing. 
Ella Fitzgerald - You'll Have to Swing It  (Import - Jazz Time) 
Reviewed: 24 April 2000.  Ratings: *, L
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This budget import only has 28 minutes of music, and no noise reduction was attempted.  Do yourself a favor and buy the Swingsation collection of her early work (featuring great noise reduction) or one of the other early year collections instead.  There are only a couple songs that are also found on the Swingsation collection, though.
Ella Fitzgerald - With the Tommy Flanagan Trio (Laserlight - 1996) 
Reviewed: 24 April 2000.  Ratings: *, L
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This captures a live performance in France, recorded in 1969, with a trio.  Its a poor, overly exaggerated performance. She screams out the words sometimes.  The songs aren't great, and are sometimes conglomerated with other songs in one combined mess. 
Ella Fitzgerald - The Last Decca Years (Decca - 1999) 
Reviewed: 28 June 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL 
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This is a sweet collection of Ella singing Sy Oliver arrangements in her final years at Decca, between 1949 and 1954.  Six of the 20 songs are also found on either the Priceless or More Priceless jazz collections. Most of the songs are mellow, slow ballads. 
Ella Fitzgerald - Bluella (Fantasy/Pablo - 1996)
Reviewed: 27 June 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL 
See CD at
Ella wasn't really known for her blues singing, but this collection proves that she can belt out the blues with the best of them.  This is a collection from a number of different live dates.  This collection is frequently recommended by swing dancers, but I'd recommend other collections before this one.  The first two songs are excellent.  "Smooth Sailing" (130 BPM) features Ella scatting her way through the entire song.  "Duke's Place" (150 BPM) is a good groovy live version of this classic.  The rest of the songs are either too fast (180 to 251 BPM), too slow (three 61 to 81 BPM) or too long (10 minutes) for my tastes.  I prefer Ella's singing in other collections.
Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington - Ella at Duke's Place (Verve - 1965) 
Reviewed: 1 October 2001.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at
Simply--beautiful music.  Ella and Duke's band are perfect together, in this 1965 rematch of their legendary 1957 songbook sessions.  The slow songs are beautifully moody and evocative.   The best song for Lindy-Hoppers is "Duke's Place" (aka "C-Jam Blues") (157 BPM), and this version is arguably better than the one on Bluella.  The song "The Brown-skin Gal in the Calico Gown" (vs to 152 BPM) is an interesting change-up song, from slow to medium.
Ella Fitzgerald - The Early Years Part 2 (Decca/MCA/GRP - 1993) 
Reviewed: 7 Sept. 2001.  Ratings: **, LL
This two-CD collection features Ella Fitzgerald when she fronted Chick Webb's orchestra after Webb died, during the years 1939 to 1941.  It contains lots of girlish novelty songs, like songs about chewing bubble gum. Lots of ballads, too.  Tempos are all over the map.  Songs feature simple melodies and little true jazz soloing.  Its interesting to listen to Ella's voice develop from girlish to adult.  The latter songs are better. A lot of the ballads are at about 95 BPM, for foxtrot dancing. The Ella Fitzgerald/Chick Webb Swingsation collection is probably better for fast Lindy songs. 
Ella Fitzgerald - Best of the Songbooks (Verve) 
Reviewed: 3 Oct. 2001.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at
The singing is spectacular.  Only a couple of the songs are danceable, but put it on and prepare to be enchanted.  There is some overlap with First Lady of Song, but not much.  There's lots of ballads and string orchestra backing.  There's a good version of "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" (164 BPM).  Decent "Lady is a Tramp", too.
Ella Fitzgerald - and Duke Ellington Compact Jazz (Verve - 1993) 
Reviewed: 3 Oct. 2001.  Ratings: ****, LLL
Out of print
This is an excellent compilation of the best songs off of the 3-CD Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook plus songs off the Ella at Duke's Place, plus this CD also contains a few selections from her live recordings with Duke, including the high-energy song perfect for dancing: "Mack the Knife" (165 BPM), but its not the one where she forgets the lyrics.  But I like this one better! And there's a fun seven minute live version of "It Don't Mean a Thing" (206 BPM). 
Ella Fitzgerald - The Complete Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife (Verve - 1993) 
Reviewed: 3 Nov. 2001.  Ratings: ****, LLL
See CD at
One of Ella's best sellers, this album won two Grammy awards in 1960.  Ella sings 13 standards, including the famous rendition of "Mack the Knife" (140 BPM) where she forgets the lyrics and makes up her own.  Brilliant!  Her voice is lovely.  Of course!  And she has a nice giggle as she thanks the audience in between songs. 
Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae - At Newport (Verve - 2000) 
Reviewed: 24 Sept. 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL
These three divas sound good in these live recordings from 1957.  The sound is somewhat muddy, but the singing redeems the CD.  Especially Ella.  Good version of "Love Is Here to Stay" (123 BPM) from McRae, with nice breaks.  Minimal accompaniment with Ella, but good.  McRae's voice grates a little bit on me.  Lots of ballads.
Ella Fitzgerald - Jukebox Ella Vol. 1 (Verve - 2003) 
Reviewed: 15 Feb. 2004.  Ratings: ***, LL
This is a 2-CD compilation of songs that weren't on her main album releases.  The first CD is decent, but it has lots of ballads.  The second CD mostly contains various throwaway Christmas, foreign language, string ballads, pop songs and novelty songs.  There isn't a lot for swing dancers here.  There are two excellent songs here, though: "Bill Bailey" (134 BPM) and "Ol' Man Mose" (170 BPM) which I didn't have on any other CD.  "Bill Bailey" can also be found on the Something to Live For compilation.  "Too Young for the Blues" is awesome, but also found on First Lady of Song.
Fly-Rite Boys - Big Sandy Presents (Hightone Records - 1998) 
Reviewed: 27 April 2000.  Ratings: **, LL
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The Fly-Rite boys are usually the back-up band for Big Sandy, but for this CD, they are on their own.  Rockabilly/Western-Swing/bluegrass is the style of band normally, and they demonstrate all those styles as well as swing and jazz in the 12 songs.  The twangy guitar betrays their roots in virtually all of their songs.  A few of the numbers are vocals.  Some good boogie-woogie tunes here.  Except for one ballad, and two songs around 130 BPM, all songs are 171 BPM and above, up to 286 BPM.
The Flying Neutrinos - I'd Rather Be in New Orleans (1999) 
Reviewed: 28 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: *,
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This New York band's sound isn't easy to classify.  I would say lounge-swing, being mostly slow, ballady-type songs, but there are a couple of fast songs, sounding like ragtime jazz, including their version of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon". A lot of these songs aren't swing songs.  The woman's voice is funky, in a good sort of way.  The other lead singer isn't impressive.  This album doesn't contain and isn't anything like their song "Mr. Zoot Suit" (190 BPM) on the Hipsters, Zoots & Wingtips, Volume 1 collection.  The lead vocalist's picture is on the cover, and she stares at you from the back cover.  And from the liner notes!  And from the tray below where the CD sits!  And from on the CD itself...  you just can't escape her!
Freddie A. & the Swing Machine - Just Like That (1999) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, LL 
This independent CD is done by a local band in San Diego known for their live performances which are marked by excellent jazz musicianship.  The songs are part covers, part originals, very jazzy, with lots of solos.  The CD is short (27 minutes).  Some of the songs are instrumentals, and some feature Freddie A, whose voice unfortunately sounds too much like a lounge singer.   I don't think they'll have national appeal, but some of us in San Diego like them. 
Lowell Fulson - Hung Down Head The Original Chess Masters (1991) 
Reviewed: 11 March 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
Lowell Fulson sings the blues.  His blues style is related to the styles of T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Witherspoon, Roy Milton, Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown, and Johnny Otis, among others.  It is called Southwest/West Coast Blues.  Fulson's band on this CD features a scaled-down big band horn section, an electric guitar, a piano and a steady swinging rhythm.  Originally recorded 1955 to 1961, this CD is 37 minutes long.  Songs have simple blues patterns, simple lyrics. The tempos of the 11 songs only range up to 141 BPM tops.  Some good songs for blues dancing.  The instrumental "Low Society" (99 BPM) is a short, totally groovy tune.  This CD is out-of-print but there's a 2-CD equivalent.

Copyright 1999-2003 by Ronald Bloom

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