Ron's Swing CD Reviews


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Compilations - A to I J to R S to Z

 

Indigo Swing - All Aboard! (1998) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LLLL 
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Indigo Swing is a national known band out of San Francisco, playing the best mix of danceable originals and covers of any band I've heard.  Their sound is a relaxed acoustic sound, from the piano, to the mellow saxophone, to Boyd's voice.  This CD, their 2nd, has great danceable songs from 125 BPM to 175 BPM, mostly originals.  Fully 8 of 12 are danceable (by my standards).  The rest are very listenable.   "Blue Suit Boogie" (175 BPM), with its lyrics, boogie-woogie beat, and great breaks, is one of the best dance songs out there. I also love "Today's the Day I'm Glad I'm Not Dead" (125 BPM).  This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.
 
Indigo Swing - Red Light (1999) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999. Ratings: ***½, LLL 
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This, Indigo Swing's 3rd album, continues their run of excellent swing CDs.  I recently even saw this CD featured at Tower Records, so they have some money behind the marketing of this.  I wish them luck.  I'd like to get more people to understand that swing is more than the hard-core Neo-swing sound.  Indigo Swing's live shows are great, but sometimes a little dancer unfriendly.  This is another CD of almost all originals, but in my opinion, both the Listenability and Lindyability is slightly less than All Aboard!  "Another Day in LA" (155 BPM) is another one of my all-time favorite dance songs from when I first heard them play it at Monsters. 
 
Indigo Swing - Indigo Swing (1996) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****½, LLL 
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This album has fewer originals than the others, but the original "My Baby Comes Round at 8" (125 BPM) has the sweetest lyrics and chords about a fellow anticipating his baby, "... tonight's the night I plan on making her all.... my own." and "hey now, I can hear my heart singing, cause my baby comes 'round at 8" sung in his usual understated way.  These and a few other songs make this another fine album.  They always throw in a salsa-rhythm song or two, and the one on this album is a gem "Baby Baby" (140 BPM).  There are unfortunately no swing songs between 125 BPM and 175 BPM.  I really like the slow songs on here.  They move me, man. 
 
J. Street Jumpers - Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby (1998) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **½, LL 
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This is a neat little find from a band out of Maryland or one of those other tiny eastern pseudo-states.  They play covers of old R&B tunes including the almost mandatory Jump, Jive & Wail.  The recordings are not very polished, probably due to a low recording budget.  I see the liner notes say it was recorded live with nothing done afterward.  The musicianship isn't top-rate, either, in my opinion.  Yuck, I sound like a critic.  There are a few songs I like quite a bit, including "That's How I feel" (120 BPM) and "Sure Had a Wonderful Time.." (130 BPM). 
 
Joe Jackson - Jumpin' Jive (1981) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ***, L 
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This was my first swing CD, and you always remember your first.  I owned and loved this way CD before I got into swing dancing.  Joe Jackson's first and last swing album.  His voice annoys some people, but I like it.  Well, maybe it does sound particularly annoying in a few of these songs.  The songs are all covers of Calloway, Jordan, etc.  Most are <100 BPM or >200 BPM, but I like their version of "Is You Ain't.." (115 BPM).
 
Pete Jacobs and his Wartime Radio Review - Would You Like to Dance? (1998) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LLL½ 
A dancer himself, Jacob's liner notes say he chose the songs for dancing to, and "Applause is nice, but I'd rather see everybody having a great time out on the dance floor.  After all, dancing is what it's all about."  This is big-band music at its finest, with a mix of originals and covers, vocals and instrumentals.  Great mix of tempos in this, his first CD, of course--it's for dancing!  Great covers of "Why Don't Cha Do Right?" (115 BPM) and "Opus One" (155 BPM).  His clarinet playing is sweet.  I think they beat out George Gee's band for danceability at Swing Camp Catalina  '99.  Like Bill Elliott's orchestra, I'm bugged again by those songs with the authentic-sounding sappy vocal harmonies, three of 'em, but you may love them.   Jacob's band is more modern sounding, in general.  Speaking of Bill Elliott, the comparison is inevitable, both modern big-bands from LA, and Elliott probably has the edge, for now.  Go, Pete, Go!
 
The Pete Jacobs Quintet - The Rose Room (Whitestone Records - 2002) 
Reviewed: 19 May 2002.  Ratings: ***, LLL
Pete Jacobs latest effort is another good collection of songs written with Lindy Hop dancers in mind.  Jacobs doesn't appear to be making an effort to sound authentic in a particular era.  He plays covers of classic Goodman and Erskine Hawkins songs, for example, alongside 50's R&B songs by Buddy Johnson and Lionel Hampton.  This eclectic collection also includes an excellent cover of "Killer Joe" (118 BPM), a more modern jazz song. Throughout the CD the playing is all good, but there's something very pop-sounding about most of the arrangements and the singing.   The drumming is heavy.  Many of the vocals are by singer Christi Noel, whose voice has a large waver and whose delivery seems to be a bit exagerrated.  I'm not crazy about it, but you may love her.  Tempos are mostly in a very dancer-friendly range from 116 to 164 BPM.  The songs are mostly all covers of tried-and-true Lindyhop-danceable songs. This CD is worth checking out, it should appeal to a wide range of dancers.  See www.wartimeradio.com for CD ordering info.  
 
Illinois Jacquet - Jacquet's Got It (LabelM - 2001) 
Reviewed: 2 Jan. 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL
Recorded in 1987. Great big-band sound of the modern variety.  Great saxophone solos by Jacquet.  For dancing, I really like "Three Buckets of Jive" (137 BPM).  Many of the other songs are too fast, too slow, or too long for my tastes.  
 
Colin James - And the Little Big Band II (1998)
Reviewed: 4 Oct. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LLL½
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Canadian Colin James is a blues guitarist.  For this CD he plays a collection of mostly 40's-50's swing vocal standards, and he does a hell of a job.  There are quite a few blues songs featuring his screaming electric guitar.  But most of the rest are excellent modern versions of classics with all the piano and brass necessary to make them sound excellent, and with the guitar restrained.  After all the 30's-40's big-band albums I've been listening to recently, this stereo CD with full dynamics is music to my ears.  His voice is great.  Tempos are all over.  I rate this CD highly, but if you don't like jump blues, guitar blues, this might not be for you. I like "Safronia B" (180 BPM) and "Somethin's Goin' On in My Room" (160 BPM) the most, when I listen, I must move my body.   This CD also has "Jumping from Six to Six" (190 BPM) and "Oh Babe" (165 BPM).
 
Etta James - R&B Dynamite (Virgin Records - 1987) 
Reviewed: 19 May 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL
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This is early Etta James, when she was singing basic 50's R&B songs.  As usual for this era, the songs were simple songs based on the 12-bar blues pattern, with a saxophone sometimes providing a countermelody.  Really simple songs.  The appeal is all about Etta Jame's expressive voice.  Kinda sassy.  A voice with an attitude.  For dancing, I like "Number One" (140 BPM). 
 
Harry James - Trumpet Blues, the Best Of Harry James (1999) 
Reviewed: 30 Oct. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL½
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Another album purchased in my quest for hi-fi big band sound.  Sixteen of Harry James songs, recorded between 1955 and 1958 by Capitol.  A few of the best songs are on the Big Bands in Hi-Fi compilation (like "Two O'clock Jump"), which as of this writing, is out-of-print, and the Oscillatin Rhythm compilation, which is also now out-of-print.  (See reviews below in the compilations section).  The best is still "Two O'clock Jump" (155 BPM). I prefer Ella's version of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and Basie's version of "Moten Swing" to these versions by James, but these aren't bad.  There are too many slow songs on here for me, six sleepy ones below 105 BPM.  But eight are between 115 and 155 BPM.  There are a number of good, interesting and danceable songs on this excellent collection.  
 
Jellyroll - Hep Cat's Holiday (1997) 
Reviewed: 30 Oct. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LLL
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This San Francisco band is my new favorite to play in my car.  All songs are very listenable.  The band's sound is minimalist, featuring tight vocal harmonies, strong rhythm guitar, with appearances by a saxophone and piano. I love the lead singer's voice.  I'm again betraying my bias for female vocalists, but I can't help it, her voice is both sultry and spunky.  Tempos are either 125 BPM, or greater than 190 BPM.  The typical gap in my favorite range.  When I DJ I do play their versions of "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" (120 BPM) and "Blue Light Boogie" (125 BPM), both excellent.   The album has all covers of songs by Louis Jordan, Slim Gaillard, and others, but they don't just cover the same 10 songs as every other swing band, they choose lesser-known but still-excellent songs. 
 
Jellyroll - Hoo-Dee-A-Da (1999) 
Reviewed: 20 Nov. 1999.  Ratings: ****½, LLL½ 
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This album is even better than the last!  Again, wonderful tight swing.  This is "can't sit still" music.  Instead of the shared lead vocals and the lovely multipart harmonies featured on the last CD, this CD mostly features lead singer Belinda Blair on her own.  Her voice is awesome.   This CD features a trumpet and a trombone instead of the occasional piano and saxophone on the last CD.  The sound is very well-produced with every note seeming to fit perfectly in the whole.  Excellent trumpet and trombone solos.  Perfect rhythm section.  This CD features a mix of covers and originals and I'm happy to find the songwriting is as excellent as the playing.  My only complaints about this album are that there are a couple short drumming transition tracks that don't add anything, and that too many of the songs are based on the 12-bar blue pattern.  Also, there is again a problem with overly-high tempos on this CD, and I've heard that their live shows have the same problem.  But the songs are so engaging, it almost makes up for it.  There are many good songs on this album, but when I DJ I particularly like to play "How do you Jive and Juke?" (170 BPM), "Headbone" (178 BPM) and the Ellington/Hodges instrumental cover "Krum Elbow" (140 BPM) with its great breaks.
 
Johnny Nocturne Band - Shake 'Em Up (Rounder Records - 1994) 
Reviewed: 21 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ***½, LLL 
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Quotes from the liner notes: "powerhouse renditions of instrumental jump blues and jazz tunes from the late '40s and early '50s" and "highly danceable".  These guys are great, from their saxophones, to the lead guitar, to the vocalist on some of their songs.  They play mostly slow and medium tempo blues songs.  The songs are covers of Ellington, Johnny Otis, Roy Milton, etc.  "If It's News To You" (130 BPM) and "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" (132 BPM) are great swinging blues songs, but they probably fit West-Coast swing style better than Lindy.  Awesome musicality and sound quality.  They also have a good "Oh Babe"  (155 BPM).   There are also two Latin tempo tunes.  And yes, I've alphabetized this CD right, there is no Mr. Nocturne.
 
Johnny Nocturne Band - Wild & Cool (Rounder Records - 1998) 
Reviewed: 28 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LLLL
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Like the last album, there are a lot of blues-based songs, but with a good swing.  Excellent musicians.  These songs are mostly vocal songs, and the vocalist, Brenda Boykin, is so full of soul.  I love the saxophonist/clarinetist's solos, backed by the playful piano, bass, light guitar, and swinging drum.  Everything balanced perfectly.  There's also a baritone saxophone, a trumpet, and a trombone, all grand.  Great mix of tempos, with two ballads and the rest ranging from 120 to 190 BPM.  The songs on this album swing more than the last, better for Lindy.  Still, this is jump blues, with lots of jazzy solos, so it won't be to everyone's taste.
 
Johnny Nocturne Band w/Kim Nalley - Million Dollar Secret  (Rounder Records - 1999) 
Reviewed: 14 April 2000.  Ratings: ***½, LLL
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Their new singer Kim Nalley is as good as the last singer.  The band is superb, as before.  Beautifully crafted music on all levels.  I like "Million Dollar Secret" (101 BPM), "Jump Tonight" (183 BPM) and "Comes Love" (113 BPM).    Jazzy covers.  Definitely danceable stuff.
 
Buddy Johnson & Orchestra - Walk 'Em (1996)
Reviewed: 26 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: **, LLL
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Buddy Johnson's band was popular for dancers at the Savoy and elsewhere because of its slow, walking, tempos.  Recorded 1941 to 1952, these 24 songs mostly have tempos from 110 to 135 BPM, or even slower for the ballads. Most songs are based around the blues, with a boogie-woogie beat.  My favorites are "Walk 'Em" (125 BPM), "You Gotta Walk That Chalk Line" (115 BPM) and the instrumental "Shufflin' and Rollin'" (150 BPM).  Buddy Johnson's orchestra helped pave the way for R&B.  Many songs are sung by Buddy's sister Ella Johnson. My biggest problem with these songs may not be a problem for other people, but I can't help cringing at Ella's voice as it struggles to hit the right notes. When Buddy sings things are somewhat better. The songs are catchy, the band provides a great accompaniment. 
 
Buddy Johnson - Rockin' n' Rollin' (Collectables - 1995) 
Reviewed: 1 Sept. 2001.  Ratings: **½, LLL
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After the war, Buddy adapted his beat to the harder rhythm and blues that was developing.  He had a series of R&B and pop hits.  But his band was still an expensive-to-maintain 14 pieces.  Lots of big-sounding horns.  So his sound is best described as big-band R&B.  These songs were recorded in the mid 1950's.  Most of the songs are vocals.  There's a lot of simple, catchy songs suitable for dancing in this collection, with half of the 14 songs in the tempo range from 115 to 140 BPM.  But make no mistake, this is not fine jazz, or fine anything, its just a collection of forgettable melodies with a danceable beat.  
 
J. J. Johnson, Al Grey - Things Are Getting Better All The Time (1984) 
Reviewed: 29 April 2001.  Ratings: ***, LL 
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Its the battle of the jazz trombones.  J. J. Johnson and Al Grey both play trombones.  Ray Brown plays bass. Barron, Roker and Carey play piano/keyboard, drums and percussion respectively.  This is excellent modern jazz.  The two trombonists take turns with excellent solos.   The title track, at 130 BPM, is a good song, but I find it too groovy and long (at 5:40), and with too many breaks, to be a great swing dance song.  And personally, I hate dancing to long bass solos.  "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" (122 BPM) is better.  The melody is liberally improvised on, but the rhythm is driving.  The other songs are a delightful mix of slow and fast, swinging and funky.
 
Etta Jones - My Buddy (sings the songs of Buddy Johnson) (1998) 
Reviewed: 20 Dec. 1999.  Ratings: ***½, LL 
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This is another recommendation from dancer/instructor Paul Overton, see the link on the Recommendations page.  Unfortunately, I wouldn't recommend it as a swing dance CD.  Why?  Because this is a slow jazzy blues CD, with only two songs fast enough (>110 BPM) to Lindy to.  And as for one of them, "Fine Brown Frame", I recommend the Nellie Lutcher version on the Jumpin Like Mad compilation instead.  But "Let's Beat Out Some Love" (118 BPM) is excellent and its worth getting this album just for this one jazzy song with its sweet sax solos, groovy walking bass line, and its great breaks.  If you like blues, though, this album is a fine choice.  Her voice is perfect for the blues and the pianist is incredible. 
 
Rickie Lee Jones - Rickie Lee Jones (1979) 
Reviewed: 27 June 2000.  Ratings: ****, LL½ 
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When I find swing-danceable songs on pop or rock albums I call it "unexpected swing", and I am totally digging the unexpected swing on this '70s album!  Thanks, Shana.  I love her groovy, mumbling voice.  The song everyone knows, "Chuck E's In Love" (115 BPM), swings, but it has weird parts.  The real find is "Rickie's All Star Joint" (144 BPM).  With its groovy bass line and sweet breaks, its a fun little song to dance to!
 
Louis Jordan - Swingsation (1999) 
Reviewed: 21 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL 
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If you are into swing dancing, you are into Louis Jordan, even if you don't know it.  Per the liner notes: "...Bill Haley and Chuck Berry, who received the major share of adulation and financial rewards that perhaps should have been his".  Bands continue to cover his songs to this day.  If you've been dancing, you've certainly danced to one of his songs, covered by someone else.  His bands were hot, his vocals were hot, the his songs the hottest.  This newly remastered collection, part of the acclaimed Swingsation series, provides 16 of his best songs, recorded 1946 to 1953. Check it out if you want the originals to "Saturday Night Fish Fry" (170 BPM), "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" (150 BPM), "Choo-Choo ch' Boogie" (170 BPM), or "Let the Good Times Roll" (105 BPM).  Lots of up-tempo songs on this 16-song collection, there are 11 from 150 to 185 BPM. 
 
Louis Jordan - Anthology 1939-1953 (1999) 
Reviewed: 24 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL 
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This is a 46-song double-CD with over 2 hours of music. Louis Jordan has a great voice and plays a great sax.  His combo really swings, but sometimes I wish the sound were fuller, it sometimes lacks punch. A few of the songs do feature an orchestra. About half of the songs on the Swingsation collection are also on this collection.  All his classics songs are here.  Tempos are all over the place. Everyone ought to be able to find an uncommon favorite on here, for me its either "G.I. Jive" (120 BPM), or the duet with Louis Armstrong: "Life is So Peculiar" (115 BPM).  I also like "Never Trust a Woman" (90 BPM).
 
Louis Jordan - Five Guys Named Moe (Decca/MCA Records - 1992) 
Reviewed: 19 May 2002.  Ratings: ***, LLL
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This is a compilation of Jordan's lesser-known songs.  I bought this CD for the song "Jack You're Dead" (181 BPM) which is a cute song with fun breaks.  "When you gets no kicks from loving... Jack You're Dead!"  That song and most of the others aren't on the Anthology compilation reviewed above.   I guess I should have bought the box set so I don't keep buying Jordan CDs that have overlapping material or that are missing key songs!  Jordan is the master of fun, unique, jump blues songs.  His songs are delightful and charming.  The reason Jordan is so often covered by modern swing bands is found in these notes.
 
Louis Jordan - No Moe (Verve Records - 1992) 
Reviewed: 19 May 2002.  Ratings: **, LL
This is a compilation of re-recorded greatest hits.  In most cases, the originals, recorded in the 40's are better than these covers in the 50's.  These versions are often at a different speed than the originals, or add other instruments such as organ.  The originals usually have a more relaxed, swinging, feel.  However, I do like this version of "Is You Is" (116 BPM) better than the original.  
 
Jump n' Jive - I'm a Dirty Bird (1999)
Reviewed: 4 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: **, LL
This Florida band provides solid swing with a mix of originals and covers.  The band members are older, their sound is a little more classic.  The male vocalist is good, but unremarkable.  Their sound is tight, but unremarkable, but some of the song lyrics are definitely interesting.   "Wrap It Up Baby" (205 BPM) has swinging advice to use a condom.  "Are Those Things Really Real?" (120 BPM, Latin rhythm) is what you think it is.  Tempos of the 12 songs: 3 below 115 BPM, 4 above 180, the rest in the middle. Good version of "Choo Choo Ch'boogie" (160 BPM).
 
Jumpin Jimes - They Rock They Roll They Swing (1998) 
Reviewed: 1 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: *, L
This isn't subtle music.  Loud guitars and brass.  The album title tells you what it attains to be.  The music is hard driving, the in-your-face neoswing, ala Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  With a rockabilly feel.  I'm not crazy about the lead singer's voice--no range or depth.  A mix of originals and covers.  The original "Swing Shift" (198 BPM) is a decent neoswing song.  Their interpretations of "Fever", "Ice-Cream Man", and "Rock and Roll All Night" aren't good, I'll stick with the originals. Mostly fast songs here. 
 

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