Ron's Swing CD Reviews


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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - Twisted: Best Of (Rhino - 1992) 
Reviewed: 24 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, L
out-of-print
Vocalese jazz is not my thing, I guess.  I'd rather hear the original instruments than vocal/lyrical interpretations of them.  But I find myself getting into this.  And alternately annoyed.  It's very clever putting lyrics like a quickly spoken "...carrots and you make a very good stew" into "Cottontail".  And the lyrics about green beans in the song "Farmer's Market" crack me up!  "Going to Chicago" (75 BPM) with Basie/Joe Williams also sounds kind of cool.  The three singers are good, the backing bands good, and the music is good jazz.  Songs were recorded from 1957 to 1961.  This CD is more for listening than for dancing.
 
Jonny Lang - Lie to Me (1996) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, L 
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OK, here's another modern blues artist I already had a CD from that I discovered has a couple songs that can be Lindyed to.  They swing at 125 and 130 BPM.  I'm not quite sure why I'm reviewing these fringe albums, but make of them what you will.  This kid has a great future. 
 
Julia Lee - Snatch and Grab It 1944-1949 (EPM import) 
Reviewed: 26 May 2001.  Ratings: ***˝, LLL
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Julia Lee's music is defined as R&B, but like Louis Jordan, most of the songs have a very jazzy feel.  For example, in the title track there's a series of short trumpet, saxophone and jazz guitar solos. All the songs are based on the 12-bar blues pattern, and all of them swing.  Her voice is strong and solid. The backing musicians vary song to song, but are all excellent.  The playing is much more creative than many of the R&B CDs I own. There's none of the heavy beat and simple guitar and saxophone solos.  Julia's Lee style reminds me somewhat of Nellie Lutcher, who I also like a lot.  Many of Lee's song lyrics are suggestive, filled with double-entendre's or even more obvious sexual references.   Its amazing they could get away with singing such songs in 1944 to 1949!  Songs like "I Didn't Like It the First Time" (162 BPM), "My Man Stands Out" (162 BPM), and "Don't Come Too Soon" (126 BPM) have to be heard to be believed.  Tempos range from very slow to 230 BPM.  I already had the excellent "Come On Over to My House" (144 BPM) and "King Sized Papa" (152 BPM) on other collections.  
 
Peggy Lee - Travelin Light (Capitol - 2000) 
Reviewed: 25 March 2000.  Ratings: ****˝, LL˝
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This is a sweet little delight of a jazz album.  A short 35 minutes of mellow jazz vocals with a small group as backup, featuring Dave Barbour on guitar.  This reminds me of the excellent Maxine Sullivan Tribute to Andy Razoff album, but this one is even more mellow.   Peggy Lee was famous for her many novelty songs, but she also was an excellent jazz singer, as this collection so clearly shows.  Recorded in 1946 to 1948 for radio performances and never intended for commercial release, these songs were recently selected by Peggy Lee herself for inclusion in this collection.  Half of the songs are slow songs, but others range up to 165 BPM.  Great sound quality.  I like "Somebody Loves Me" (143 BPM), "I Ain't Got Nobody" (143 BPM), and "Goody Goody" (139 BPM).  And everything is so well-done.  Her voice has so much feeling as it slides like silk on the melody line over the swingin rhythm. Great jazz guitar work in some of the instrumental choruses by Dave Barbour. This collection isn't going to appeal to many swing dancers due to its mellow feel and light beat, but its got a great feel for late at night, and for pure listening enjoyment, it is hard to top.
 
Peggy Lee - Rare Gems and Hidden Treasures (Capitol Records  - 2000) 
Reviewed: 21 Oct. 2000.  Ratings: **˝, LL˝
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This CD of rare Peggy Lee songs has some good stuff as well as plenty of fluff.  I like the leadoff song "Every Night" (143 BPM) even though its kinda cheesy.  There's lots of even cheesier slow ballads on this collection.  But there's a number of songs with tempos from 117 to 155 BPM.  There's an interesting vocal version of "All the Cats Join In" (155 BPM).
 
Ramsey Lewis - Finest Hour (Verve Records - 2000) 
Reviewed: 2 Jan. 2002.  Ratings: ****, LLL
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Lewis is famous for his 1966 grammy award winning recording: "The In Crowd".  This collection includes the title song from that album and many other excellent songs, all based around a trio of piano, bass and drums with some songs with brass.  The songs range from jazz to ballads to pop. He does funky-pop piano treatments of several pop songs like "Hang On Sloopy" and "A Hard Day's Night".  The songs aren't always strictly jazz, they don't always swing, but they are very listenable.  For dancing, "The In Crowd" (141 BPM) is an infectious live song that isn't a strict straight swinging song, but its so good, you can't help but dance.  It has great loud and soft dynamics, clapping, and cheering. "Here Tis" (128 BPM) and "Wade In the Water" (129 BPM) are also excellent.  
 
Ramsey Lewis - The In Crowd (MCA - 1965) 
Reviewed: 2 Jan. 2002.  Ratings: ****, LLL
This is the grammy award winning album referred to in the above review.   More of the songs in this collection are genuine jazz songs.
 
Ramsey Lewis - Consider the Source (MCA - 1995) 
Reviewed: 12 April 2002.  Ratings: *****, L˝
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More great piano jazz from the Ramsey Lewis trio.  This is a CD with selections from three of Lewis' earliest CDs from 1956 to 1959.  From what I read, he turned to pop later in his life, but this CD is jazz, but very accessible jazz.  He songs really tell a story.  He uses dynamics, tempo changes, solos, and changes of styles to create and change moods.   I really enjoy listening to this CD.  These songs are not just vehicles for soloing, they are real songs.  Great treatments of "Be Mir Bist Du Schoen", and "I'll Remember April".  The song "Delilah" changes so many delightful ways--from moody dirge to a latin rhythm, to a swing rhythm. For dancing, "Dee's New Blues" (161 BPM) grooves well, but its pretty quiet. "C.C. Rider" (181 BPM) is also good.  Eldee Young on Bass and Isaac "Red" Hold on drums are excellent.  Highly recommended for jazz piano aficionados.
 
Lex and Joe - Willie's Pad (2000) 
Reviewed: 29 Oct. 2000.  Ratings: **, L˝
This swing and blues band is from Maine, on the opposite corner of the country from where I'm writing from--San Diego.  Its unlikely our paths will cross, but if they did, I'd try to catch one of their shows.  Although clearly low-budget, this isn't a bad CD, and the songs are well-executed and there's a good variety of song styles and tempos.  I admire that this CD features mostly originals.  But its hard to write good originals.  There aren't a lot of interesting or unexpected melodies or solos to capture this jaded reviewers attention and convince me to spin it a second time.  Just having the saxophone and guitar play the same riffs over and over again simultaneously isn't enough.  My favorite songs are the non-originals, particularly "Fan It" (112 BPM) with its interesting fiddle and clarinet interplay.  See their site: www.lexandjoe.com .
 
Jimmy Liggins - Legends of Specialty Series (Specialty - 1990) 
Reviewed: 21 April 2000.  Ratings: *, L
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Along with brother Joe, Jimmy Liggins played simple R&B.  A few of his songs were covered by the Mighty Blue Kings and the covers are much better than the originals.  I'm not crazy about Jimmy's voice, and the band adds little.  Songs were recorded 1947 to 1951 and are all unimaginitive12-bar blues.  There's some great Jimmy Liggins songs on the Jumpin' Like Mad compilation, but they aren't on this compilation!  Also, Roy Milton is much better.
 

Joe Liggins - Legends of Specialty Series (Specialty - 1990)

Reviewed: 4 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: *˝, LL

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I've bought a few CDs by the classic R&B artists, and although I do like this album, as I like the others, I can't really recommend it.  Buy the R&B compilations instead, or Ella Mae Morse.  25 songs by one person is too much.  These songs were recorded between 1950 and 1954.  This saxophone & piano boogie woogie and blues band plays songs at various tempos: 11 songs from 85 to 110 BPM, 7 from 125 to 160 BPM, the rest faster. I like "One Sweet Letter" (150 BPM). 

 
Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis - Live In Swing City/Swingin' With Duke (Columbia - 1999) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: *****, LLL 
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This tribute to Duke Ellington is fantastic.  These songs were recorded live at Lincoln Center in NYC in conjunction with the recording of a PBS documentary about Duke Ellington.  The documentary is great, with a lot of TV time spent watching the band playing Ellington songs.  During a few of the songs, you can watch Frankie Manning smiling his huge smile, and dancing with a few other lucky souls.  The band is awesome.  Totally.  They reinterpret old Ellington classics, making them new again.  Incredible solos.  A total contrast from the typical bands I've been reviewing here.  Some of the songs on this CD are too slow or jazzy to dance to, but the ones that can be danced to are really hot.  They include a great "C-Jam Blues" (145 BPM), and "Bli Blip" (130 BPM).  These are extremely popular songs among most swing dancers.  You can hear the dancing and cheering during C-Jam Blues.  You feel like you are right there with Frankie.  Danceable jazz swing at its best. This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.
 
John Lithgow (with the Bill Elliott Orchestra) - Singin' In The Bathtub (1999) 
Reviewed: 27 June 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL 
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Yes, this is weird.  It has John Lithgow (star of the zany TV show "Third Rock from the Sun") singing children's songs.  Not something the average swing dancer would normally be interested in.  But this isn't like the typical lame children's CD like the one my sister recently bought for our nephew that featured lame singers with a lame accordian.  This features Bill Elliott Orchestra on most of the songs! The songs are engaging and Bill Elliott's group is as tight as usual.  Not all the songs swing, but the ones that do include a remake of Calloway's "Everyone Eats When They Come to My House" (160 BPM),  "A - You're Adorable" (128 BPM) and "You Gotta Have Skin" (129 BPM).  This CD really cracks me up.  Buy it for your niece or nephew and teach her or him to swing dance!
 
Little Charlie and the Nightcats - Disturbing the Peace (1988) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, L 
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Another modern jump blues band listed here because there are a couple of songs that swing, and having this CD in my "Swing" pile helps  inflate my "I have # swing CDs!" statement.
 
Little Richard - The Georgia Peach (Specialty - 1991) 
Reviewed: 1 June 2002.  Ratings: **˝, LL˝
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Fun early rock and roll! Songs were recorded 1955 to 1957.  Little Richard puts out so much energy into his singing, he's practically screaming.  Most of the songs don't have a swing or even a shuffle rhythm, but you can still swing dance to most of them.  These are extremely simple songs.  I like "Slippin and Slidin" (181 BPM) and "Tutti Frutti" (192 BPM) and "Rip it Up" (197 BPM).
 
Jennie Löbel & Swing Kings - Jennie Lobel & Swing Kings (1998) 
Reviewed: 29 Aug. 2000.  Ratings: ****, LLL˝ 
Swing from Sweden!  The lead singer has a delightfully funky voice.  I can't describe it, but its totally distinctive.  In a good way.  This is a true dancers band.  They played at Herrang dance camp this year.  The CD liner notes includes "t/m", but whatever that is, multiply it by 4 to get to BPM.  Besides Jennie, the band is Hasse on "trummor", Olle on "bas", Lennart on "piano", Klas on "gitarr", Tommy on "klarinett", Fredrik on "trumpet", Bjorn on "tenorsaxofon".  This band is great.  I love the acoustic guitar putting down the steady rhythm.  Great tenor saxophone solos.  The various instruments trade off solos and each solo is sweeter than the last.  Everything is perfectly balanced.  I particularly like "Sugar" (126 BPM), and "Mean to Me" (114 BPM).  The tempos of the songs are clustered at 85-100 BPM (5 songs), 109 to 126 BPM (3 songs), 165 to 200 BPM (6 songs). The songs are covers.  Good covers.  Fun jazz songs, not a blues chord progression among them.  The Swedes sure know how to swing.  But, no worries, the vocals are all in English.   Want to buy this great CD?  Go to Sweden, or contact jennie@lobel.nu.   
 
Jennie Löbel - He Ain't Got Rhythm (2001) 
Reviewed: 29 May 2001.  Ratings: ****˝, LLL
This second CD from this great Swedish band is full of great, classic swinging songs by Moten, Ellington, Irving Berlin and others.  This band's sound is so distinctive.  Unlike most current swing bands, they don't blast you with power, but entice you with sweet vocals, light clarinet and piano melodies.  This band's sound is light and sharp and tight.  Each song is anchored by the steady rhythm of that rhythm guitar and brushes on the drums.  All the instruments melodies sound so much more swinging over that steady rhtyhm.  It gives the music, even the slower songs, a fun bounce characteristic of 30's music.  A song that I've heard a million times, "Moten Swing" (151 BPM) becomes a new song.  And listen to the clarinet in "He's Funny that Way" (92 BPM).  This is a true dancers band, the BPM of the songs are listed in the liner notes. Most of the songs are vocals.  Jennie Lobel's voice defies description, but its a little like Billy Holliday or Katherine Whalen from the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  Its delightful.  The music arrangements are clever and seem perfect for the band's instruments.  The tempos of the 16 songs are all over, but there's a lot from 92 to 120 and a cluster at 180 BPM.  Besides Moten Swing, my favorite for dancing is probably "Love Me or Leave Me" (127 BPM).  Want to buy this great CD?  Go to Sweden, or contact jennie@lobel.nu.
 
The Lost Continentals - Moonshine & Martinis (1997) 
Reviewed: 28 Aug.1999.  Ratings: ****, LLLL
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From Atlanta.  I love these guys.  The lead singer Amy Pike has a lovely voice.  This is a four-person band, playing mostly original songs, all of which swing really well.  A saxophone makes an occasional appearance, sounding excellent when it does, but mostly this is a guitar/bass/drum/vocals band.    They really have an original sound.  Kind of rockabilly-ish.  A very mellow guitar sound.  Tempos are moderate, 7 of 15 are from 145 to 155 BPM!  Songs are short.  A lot of these swing albums I don't really listen to, I just mine them for good songs.  This one I listen to.
 
Lyle Lovett - Joshua Judges Rush (1992) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, L
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These aren't big-band or swing songs, in general.  But the song "She Makes Me Feel Good" (125 BPM) is a rare and valuable swing gem.
 
Lyle Lovett - And His Large Band (1989) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, L
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The first half of this album contains really sweet slow big band jazz songs.  Then he's back to country songs, alas.  I love the slow song "Cryin' Shame" (90 BPM).  His singing is of course, so cool, and his band, top-rate. 
 
Lyle Lovett - Smile - Songs from the Movies (MCA - 2003) 
Reviewed: 26 July 2003.  Ratings: ***, L˝
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This is a collection of songs that Lyle Lovett recorded for movie soundtracks.  A few of them are jazz standards suitable for dancing to, like "Straighten Up and Fly Right" (152 BPM).   The musicianship is excellent.  His version of "Blue Skies" bites.
 
Steve Lucky & The Rhumba Bums - Come Out Swingin'! (1998) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL 
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This is the 2nd CD by this jump-blues band out of San Francisco.  The band centers on a piano, guitar and lots of sax.  I like lots of sax.    The songs are mostly originals, with the vocals shared by Steve Lucky and Carmen Getit.  They remind me of the Mighty Blue Kings, a bit.  I like "Ain't Gonna Quit Ya" (125 BPM) and "Bye Bye Baby" (160 BPM) a lot.  Six of 13 songs are >180 BPM.  Whew.  They also have too many songs based on the classic 12-bar blues pattern.  This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.
 
Jimmie Lunceford - Swingsation (1998) 
Reviewed: 29 Nov. 1999.  Ratings: ***˝, LLL˝ 
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Despite being recorded from 1934 to 1937, like the other Swingsation CDs, they sound much better than you'd expect.  Lunceford is great for dancing because he has interesting songs.  According to the liner notes, Lunceford's shows were known for humor and silliness.  Many of the songs themselves are quite creative and playful. Lots of breaks and syncopations. I'm going to have to listen to this a lot to really take it in.  I like the Hi-Fi version of "For Dancer's Only" (160 BPM) that is on the Oscillatin' Rhythm compilation CD better, but in either form, its a great song.  I also like "He Ain't Got Rhythm" (184 BPM) and a number of others.  Lots of these songs have vocals, but like many big-band songs from that era, the vocalist is secondary to the band, and often doesn't start singing until half-way through the song!  If you ever thought all big-band music sounded the same, compare Lunceford to Miller to Hampton to Krupa and realize how different they really are. 
 
Nellie Lutcher - The Best Of (Capitol - 1995) 
Reviewed: 8 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: ***˝, LLL˝
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My favorite song of hers on this CD is "Fine Brown Frame" (122 BPM) that I found originally on the excellent Jumpin Like Mad compilation.  If you liked that song or that collection, you might also like this collection.  Her vocal style is interesting.  She exaggerates her pronunciation and uses lots of jive expressions.  Per the liner notes, she's "lighthearted, (the) Princess of Hep".  This is groovy R&B, recorded 1947 to 1951.  But its mellow R&B, and the band is small: just piano, drums, bass and guitar.  Her voice swings as hard as the band.  Tempos of the 21 songs are all over.  There's so many good songs on here, like "Come and Get It Honey" (146 BPM) and "Kinda Blue And Low" (115 BPM).
 

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