Ron's Swing CD Reviews


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Joe Salzano & the Blue Devils - Savoy Nights (1999) 
Reviewed: 08 Jan.1999.  Ratings: **, LL 
This band was excellent at the Hop the Millennium swing dance camp in Ensenada, Mexico, but the CD doesn't do them justice.  There's a full 73 minutes of swing songs on this CD, and this is all danceable stuff, he's even dedicated the CD to dancers.  There is a mix of original songs and covers of Ellington, Basie, Hampton, Gaillard, etc; a mix of instrumentals & vocals, a mix of male vocals & female vocals, and a mix of jazz and blues chord changes.  I didn't rate the CD higher because I felt that many of the songs sound sloppy, or have off-sounding vocals or off notes during solos.   I'm not crazy about the vocalists, but some of their songs sound OK.  Comparing "Shout and Feel It!" (215 BPM) on this CD and the one on Swing Kids soundtrack, as well as other songs, I really think that Joe's versions are a little sloppy.  But don't get me wrong, on the whole this is still a great effort, and to attempt to cover the wide breadth of songs they do with a small band is a tough job.  And they really do sound good live.  Don't miss them live. I like the first song, the original "Blue Devil Stomp" (155 BPM), and the last, the 6 minute original "Phantom Blues" (147 BPM) best.  
 
Joe Sample - Featuring Lalah Hathaway (PRA/GRP Records - 1999) 
Reviewed: 19 June 2002.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
I bought this CD for a seriously grooving version of "Fever" (113 BPM). At 5:40 its definitely long and slow for Lindyhopping, but I love it.  The groove is set not only by Hathaway's excellent singing but by the piano, jazz guitar and soaring saxophone.  Joe Sample plays piano.  Lalah Hathaway sings on most of the tunes.  Although only the one song is really dancable, I'm happy with this purchase.  This can only be described as smooth jazz, but well-done smooth jazz.  Moody and relaxing.  Hathaway's singing is smooth and beautiful and true.  
 
The Abbe Samuels Band - Lindy Friendly (2002) 
Reviewed: 15 Oct. 2002.  Ratings: **, LL
This CD is subtitled "Live at the South Florida Lindy Exchange 2002" and features the expressive singing of Abbe Samuels.  Good song selection.  The band sounds pretty good sometimes, pretty sloppy others as I can hear individual wrong notes or instruments playing on top of each other in ways that don't appeal to my ear.  On second listen I think the piano player is pretty good.  The songs are in a good tempo for Lindy.  Band and singer aside, this is one of the most unprofessional recordings I've ever heard.  The sound is very non-dynamic and echoey.  Monotone with a capitol M, and not all monotone is this bad.  As a live recording its not expected to sound the best, but usually you can get a feeling of being there, live, with the audience, but with this album I can't get that feeling.  The band may sound great live, but I could never play this song for dancers at a DJ event--the sound quality is too low.  The blues songs sound the best.   I would love to catch these guys in person sometime, though. Contact abbes12@aol.com for CD ordering info.  
 
Set 'Em Up Joe - Set 'Em Up Joe (1999) 
Reviewed: 28 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LL
Out-of-print
They have a really tight swing sound, a lot of runs and breaks played simultaneously by  the guitar and the saxophone that sound very cool. They are from New York City and many of the lyrics refer to the city.  The sound is very well-crafted, with backing musicians brought in on certain songs for just the right feel.  The male lead vocalist is very good, but some may not like the attitude he conveys sometimes, or his occasional lounge singer sound.  Original songs, that's for sure, not just your typical covers or songs based on 12-bar blues.  A lot of the songs have that minor-key/mysterious feel.  The lyrics are very entertaining, too.  They have an edge to them.  I was turned onto this band by listening to their faster songs on swing compilations, neo-swing stuff, but their slower ones are as good or better.  The music is interesting, with its off-tempo horn interjections, runs, and breaks.  Lots of breaks.  Tempos are all over the scale.  Many of the songs aren't quite the best for dancing, for one reason or another.  They remind me of Royal Crown Revue.
 
The Brian Setzer Orchestra - The Dirty Boogie (1998) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: *, L
See CD at Amazon.com
God, I hate this CD.  I dislike his overdone singing, overdone electric guitar playing, and the overly fast or slow arrangements.  How sad that this is probably the most popular swing band and CD out there, due to the popularity of his version of "Jump, Jive, & Wail"and his former life in the Stray Cats.  He really butchered "Rock This Town".   His other CDs aren't as bad.
 
The Brian Setzer Orchestra - The Brian Setzer Orchestra (1994) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, LL 
See CD at Amazon.com
This CD has more emphasis on the instruments in the big band than on Setzer's guitar than "Dirty Boogie".  There are a few good songs, some with real Jazz solos. Very tight.
 
Artie Shaw - Begin the Beguine (RCA Bluebird - 1990) 
Reviewed: 12 March 2000.  Ratings: ***, LLL
See CD at Amazon.com
Artie Shaw is one of my favorite big-band leaders.  This best-of collection contains many of his most famous songs, recorded 1938 to 1941.  The songs are diverse, and the musicianship is top-notch.  Each song is so different.  He seemed to try different styles as often as he changed wives.  His clarinet is lovely.  Tempos of the 20 songs range from ballad-slow to "Traffic Jam" at 255 BPM!  Eight are above 190 BPM.  I like "Begin the Beguine" (141 BPM), "Serenade to a Savage" (223 BPM), and "Summit Ridge Drive" (127 BPM).  I even like the mysterious, minor-key, string orchestra accompanied, "Temptation" (151 BPM).  Other famous songs: "Star Dust" (86 BPM) and "Moonglow" (110 BPM).  Sound quality is as good (or as bad) as you'd expect from 1938 to 1941.  Shaw re-recorded some of these songs in Hi-Fi in the 50's.  A few are found on the Big Bands in Hi-Fi compilation (currently out-of-print), but I still hope the rest are released on CD someday. 
 
Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra - The Lights Suite (Noir Records - 2001) 
Reviewed: 9 Aug. 2003.  Ratings: ***, L
See CD at Amazon.com
This CD has one of the best versions of "Moten Swing" (153 BPM) I've ever heard. And "Moten Swing" is one of the great classic swing songs for dancing.  This version (length 4:58) has Basie like dynamics, excellent solos, and extremely tight playing.  The rest of this CD isn't suitable for dancing.  Its modern jazz.
 
Nina Simone - The Great Nina Simone (Music Club - 1997) 
Reviewed: 3 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: **, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Most of the songs on this album are selections from the 1957 Bethlehem session that instructor Bill Borgida recommends.  A lot of Simone's stuff is slow, sleepy, soulful or bluesy.  I have a hard time finding her songs that swing.  But "Love Me or Leave Me" (166 BPM) surely swings.  It swings real hard.  And "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (118 BPM) was her hit far before Indigo Swing recorded it.  And its sweet.  This is an import, from Music Club/Music Collection.  Many of the rest of the songs are slow, sad, minor-key songs, or non-swing songs.  There are a few instrumentals with mostly piano and percussion.  There are also a number of live, non-swing songs.  I basically just like three songs.  There looks like there is another import--"Great" that has the good songs and none of the filler.
 
Nina Simone - The Very Best Of, Sugar In My Bowl 1967-1972 (RCA - 1998) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
Much of this double-CD set is very sleepy, filled with soulful vocals and piano.  But its totally eclectic, with pop covers, blues songs, gospel songs, and one, count 'em, one swing song.  It's a sweet 8 minute song called "Jellyroll" (127-134 BPM).  It has the coolest piano, groovin rhythm, building dynamics, and a few lyrics.  When I play it when I DJ, I declare a "steal" dance.  There's also a few great blues songs like "Do I Move You" (69 BPM) and "Blues for Mama" (60 BPM).  
 
Nina Simone - The Amazing Nina Simone/Nina Simone At Town Hall (Collectables - 1998) 
Reviewed: 13 May 2001.  Ratings: **, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This 76-minute CD reissues two of Simone's albums that were originally recorded in and before 1959.    Sleepy ballads make up a large proportion of Simone's output, and this CD is no exception.  The fast songs aren't that great, either.  I'm not crazy about her version of "Stomping at the Savoy", with its cheesy accompaniment.  Her "Exactly Like You" (117 BPM) isn't bad.  "Under the Lowest" (127 BPM) grooves pretty good with just a bass, brush on drums, and a piano.  Her piano playing seems sloppy, though.
 
Frank Sinatra - Sinatra Reprise, the Very Good Years (1991) 
Reviewed: 7 Jan. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LL 
See CD at Amazon.com
I've had this CD for a while but I forgot to review it.  I'm not a big Sinatra fan, but if you are, of his many albums out there this is a good choice.  Smaltzy lounge music at its best.  Recorded from 1960 to 1977 during his time at Reprise, this CD contains a lot of his most famous songs, including: "I Get a Kick out of You", "Luck be a Lady", "Strangers in the Night", "The Lady is a Tramp", "Send in the Clowns", "That's Life", "My Way", "New York, New York", etc.  Many swing quite nicely at various tempos.  You also might want to consider a compilation from Sinatra's time with the Dorsey band and Columbia (1943 to 1952) or from his time with Capitol (1953 to 1961)
 
Frank Sinatra with Count Basie Orchestra - Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise - 1998) 
Reviewed: 26 April 2003.  Ratings: ****, LLL
See CD at Amazon.com
First released in 1966, this captures Sinatra at his finest, live in Vegas, backed by one of the finest bands in the land.  DJ Jesse Miner has recommended this CD, and I'm glad I finally gave in and bought it.  I'm not a huge Sinatra fan, but damn, I find myself enjoying this despite myself.  Sinatra is such an excellent performer, and combined with the band, they are electric in songs like "I've Got You Under My Skin" (130 BPM).  Basie's band provides a lovely swinging feel and a great energy to this songs.  There's a number of songs I could play for dancers that aren't on the above Sinatra Reprise best-of CD.  Like "Where or When" (128 BPM).  There's some banter that's forgettable, but listening to it, you almost feel like you are actually in Vegas listening to him. 
 
Jimmy Smith - Back at the Chicken Shack (Blue Note - 1987) 
Reviewed: 28 March 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
This guy will only appeal to you if you like extremely long and groovy solos over a slow swingin beat.  Organ solo followed by guitar followed by sax solo, repeat.  Recorded in 1960, this is proto-acid jazz.  The five songs average 9 minutes long each. 
 
Keely Smith - Swing, Swing, Swing (Concord - 2000) 
Reviewed: 21 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
Lots of energy in these songs.  Big sound from the big backing band, the Frankie Capp Orchestra. I guess it was inevitable that she does a version of "Jump, Jive & Wail" (228 BPM).  And "Swing, Swing, Swing (Sing, Sing, Sing)" (210 BPM).  This CD was an opportunity for a well-known swing "name" to jump on the neo-swing bandwagon.  The songs are fun, and the band is good, but her singing doesn't do it for me.  The songs are fast, ranging from 154 to 235 BPM.  "Kansas City" (169 BPM) is probably the best of the lot.
 
Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers - One Hour Mama (1996) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Everyone loves this San Francisco band, playing modern versions of blues classics.  Her voice is a real pleasure to listen to.  The piano is a real anchor of this band.  The whole band is excellent, the musicianship is excellent.  A lack of songs in the ideal tempo range hurt the Lindy rating.  "Oo Poppa Do" (165 BPM) has to be one of my favorite songs to dance to and play.  I also like "Going to Chicago" (115 BPM) with its slow swingin groove and sweet solos. 
 
Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers - Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing! (2000) 
Reviewed: 29 March 2000.  Ratings: ****, LLLL
See CD at Amazon.com
This CD should be an instant swing-dancer's favorite. It certainly is an instant favorite of mine. It is loaded with 68-minutes of blues and jazz, both covers and originals. The musicianship is superb, the band is so tight and so right on. Truly fine musicians serving up delicious backing and tasty solos.  There are so many good songs, good danceable songs, everyone is sure to find a favorite. The arrangements are great, featuring lots of great brass riffs, and many many excellent solos by the band members. Great dynamics, and great breaks (and I mean great!) and wonderful repeating patterns that dancers can play with until they go to heaven. I like virtually every song on this disk, and the tempos are great for dancing.  Long songs with lots of room for the band to shine. And of course, Lavay's singing is good.  Her voice is quite interesting and distinctive but not completely to my liking.  Great songs include "Honey Pie" (153 BPM) with its diverse and oh-so-smooth solos. I also like "Big Fine Daddy" (123 BPM), which was arranged by Bill Elliott. And I like "Busy Woman's Blues (115 BPM). And "Roll the Boogie" (179 BPM). And "Voo It" (126 BPM).  Between the sexy picture of Lavay Smith on the back cover and the many songs with suggestive lyrics, I can easily believe that she has "so many men, they are waiting outside in line..." I don't think any of the songs is as good as "Oo Papa Do" from the first album, but overall this album has a much better mix of tempos, and better songs and arrangements than their first album. This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.
 
Tab Smith - Top 'n' Bottom (Delmark - 1997) 
Reviewed: 26 May 2002.  Ratings: **, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Songs recorded 1953 to 1954.  Smith was in Lucky Millinder's band, and Basie's band before forming his own band.  His band was the virtual house band at the Savoy for several years in the '40s.  His sound turned more towards R&B, but is still very jazzy.  He never turned to bop.  Smith plays a beautifully melodic alto saxophone.  His sound is relatively mellow, he didn't honk like many of the other saxophonists of the 50's.  Lots of slow ballads on here.  I bought this CD mostly for the R&B tune "Bouncing Mama" (164 BPM).
 
Speak Easy Spies - Speak Real Slow (1998) 
Reviewed: 19 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
The lead singer in this neo-swing band has a full bodied voice that sounds like it would be equally at home in a punk band.  Her voice has serious attitude. She sounds a little like Chrissie Hyde from the Pretenders.  The songs are all originals, with a number of ballad-type songs as well as fast neo-swing songs.  This band had an original sound compared to many of the neo-swing bands.  The first song, "Hey Kat" (185 BPM) is not bad, as is "Speak Real Slow" (112 BPM).
 
Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hot (1996)
Reviewed: 4 Sept. 1999.  Ratings: ***, L
See CD at Amazon.com
I resisted buying this CD, because I knew it was fast, and that it definitely belonged in the neo-swing subgroup of swing, which I don't tend to like.  But you know what? Its not bad!  This album went platinum; the calypso song "Hell" was a hit, even played on MTV.  Go figure.  All original songs.  This is the album that introduces a lot of people to swing.  "Put a Lid on It" (200 BPM) is pretty good.  A lot of the music is Dixieland jazz rather than swing.  The saxophones are featured prominently, but there's also use of banjo, and even a violin.  Some songs are instrumentals.  The song tempos are either 115 BPM or below, or 200 BPM and up. The female lead singer's voice is odd, but it works.  
 
Jess Stacy and the Famous Sidemen - Tribute to Benny Goodman (Atlantic - 1956) 
Reviewed: 27 Aug. 2000.  Ratings: ***, LLL 
See CD at Amazon.com
Jess Stacy played piano with Goodman, Bob Crosby and others and is most well-known for his famous piano solo with Goodman during "Sing, Sing, Sing" at the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  Piano is of course the featured instrument on this 1954 collection.   There are some big-band numbers and some small group numbers featuring piano, of course.  In this collection they didn't even try to replace Goodman clarinet.  The music is good, the band is tight, but songs like "Don't Be That Way" just don't sound right with saxophones and pianos substituting for Goodman's clarinet.  There's good versions of "King Porter Stomp" (187 BPM) and "Roll 'Em" (170 BPM) on this CD.  All in hi-fi.  A highlight is the trumpeting of Ziggy Elman. 
 
Mary Stallings - Manhattan Moods (Concord - 1997) 
Reviewed: 27 May 2001.  Ratings: ****, LLL
See CD at Amazon.com
This has been recommended to me many times, but I've resisted buying it.  I didn't want to have all the same CDs as everyone else.  But I'm very glad I finally gave in and picked it up.  Stallings voice is lovely.  Monty Alexander provides an excellent piano backing.  Best for Lindy are "Surrey with the Fringe On Top" (145 BPM) and "This Can't Be Love" (160 BPM).  I also love "Sweet and Lovely" (106 BPM).  Some of the other songs are languid, moody pieces, like the ultra-slow version of "How High the Moon".   But all very pleasant to listen to.  And that's an understatement.
 
Mary Stallings - Live at the Village Vanguard (MaxJazz - 2001) 
Reviewed: 21 August 2001.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
More "pleasant" music to listen to!  There's a good version of "I Love Being Here With You" (144 BPM) on this CD.  I thought Ernestine Anderson's version couldn't be topped, and maybe it's still the best, but this version is also good.  This version is longer, leaving more room for plenty of groovy saxophone soloing.  This CD contains a full 68 minutes of music, a mix of slow ballads and upbeat swinging tunes.  Eric Reed is on piano this time around, and he's excellent. Stallings sings an interesting groovy version of "The Thrill Is Gone" (128 BPM).  I also like "Lullaby Of The Leaves" (141 BPM).
 
Kay Starr w/Barney Bigard - The Complete Lamplighter Recordings 1945-1946 (Baldwin Records - 1998) 
Reviewed: 8 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a great collection of mellow jazz vocals.  Kay Starr recorded lots of pop, country, etc.  But this CD collects her 1945-1946 jazz recordings in a small group with Barney Bigard (former Ellington band member), along with rare songs from 1939 to 1947 with Charlie Barnet's band and a few with other bands.  And it captures 77 minutes of them with good sound quality.  Most of the tracks are with Barney Bigard's (small group).   There's some groovy trumpet, clarinet solos on some of these songs.  An acoustic rhythm guitar keeps the tempo.  Her voice soars in such songs as "All of Me" (118 BPM), "Honeysuckle Rose" (161 BPM), "Love Me or Leave Me" (125 BPM) and "Just About Right for Me" (154 BPM).  Lots of slow songs or mixed slow/fast songs here.  Kay Starr also sings the swinging "Everybody loves the Man with the Bag" (143 BPM) on the fine Yule B Swingin Christmas compilation CD.
 
Sting  - All This Time (A&M Records - 2001) 
Reviewed: 12 April 2002.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Obviously Sting isn't "swing", but I play a couple of the songs from this CD for dancers, so I thought I'd mention it.  This live recording highlights Sting at his jazziest.  He reworks many of his songs and infuses them with jazzier tones.  A better sounding live recording I don't think I've ever heard.  I've always been a big Sting fan, and this only continues cements my fandom.  Most of the songs are very somber.  For dancing, I play his reworked version of "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free" (128 BPM), which doesn't swing, per se, but it still works quite well!  It has a cool, funky rhythm, good breaks, and of course, its a melody we all know quite well.  It has a few weird parts, and I hate to leave dancers with no rhythm to dance to for a few 8-counts, but they are just going to have to tough it out.  "Moon Over Bourban Street" (121 BPM) also works.  
 
Sonny Stitt - The Last Sessions, Volume 1 and 2 (32Jazz - 1999) 
Reviewed: 25 Sept. 2000.  Ratings: **, L
Recorded in 1982, this is Bop jazz, with many wildly improvisational solos.  Sonny Stitt was a famous, extremely talented saxophonist.  This album is mostly his playing, with help from a very capable jazz trio and occasionally, a trumpet.  Song tempos are mostly under 100 BPM, or over 195 BPM.  "Sugar" (141 BPM) is decent, for bop. Songs are long.
 
Dakota Stanton - Spotlight On (Capitol Records - 1995) 
Reviewed: 12 April 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Of those jazz singers that never made it to the rank of the truly famous, Dakota Stanton is my new favorite.  Her voice is clear and true.  The ballads I could do without, as usual, but the uptempo songs are really tight, with good backing. The songs are short and sweet.  In the uptempo songs, I love the muted horn in Sid Feller's orchestra.  She's probably best known for the song "Late Late Show" (136 BPM).  "Anything Goes" (183 BPM) has such a catchy melody and lyrics that I can't get it out of my head.  
 
New! Stompy Jones - Stompy Jones (Jewel Records - 2003)
Reviewed: 23 Dec. 2003.  Ratings: ****, LLL
This is another great CD for swing dancers who like tightly played, excellently sung jump blues.  The band formerly known as Swing Session has released another great CD chock full of tight danceable swing songs.  Peter "Pops" Walsh's vocals are relaxed and perfect for every song.  The band's playing is fun, expressive, and squeeky tight, with seemingly not a note out-of-place.  Listen to the intricate playing by the saxophone (Jeff Ervin) and trumpet (Tim Hyland) in "Close Shave" (210 BPM) and marvel.  There are a number of original songs written by Bassist "Little David" Rose, including a fun little diddy--"A Woman's Intuition" (146 BPM), a medium-tempo song with fun horn interjections.   They also cover songs by Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Roy Milton, Five Red Caps, Ray Charles and Fletcher Henderson.   Song tempos range from slow blues (I love "Can't Find My Baby" (72 BPM)) to blistering, but there just aren't quite enough songs in the middle tempos for me to give this a really high Lindy rating.  But catch them live or buy one of their CDs, you'll love the energy and sound of this band.  For CD ordering info, see www.stompyjones.com
 
Stray Cats - Best of the Stray Cats (EMI - 1990) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, L 
See CD at Amazon.com
This is well-done rockabilly swing.  Most songs are faster than the ideal Lindy tempo.  The killer song is, of course, "Stray Cat Strut" (135 BPM) which is quite fun to dance to.  
 
Billy Strayhorn - Lush Life (Red Baron - 1992) 
Reviewed: 20 April 2002.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Billy Strayhorn was the composer of "Take The A Train" and many other excellent songs performed by Ellington's band.  He was the genius behind many of the songs supposedly written or co-written by Ellington.  This is the definitive collection of his small group and big band songs.  The songs were recorded in 1964 to 1965 but this collection was not released until 1992.  Strayhorn himself sings his song "Lush Life" on this collection.  There is a lot of beautiful music on this collection, and a couple of those songs are also excellent songs for dancers.  "Pick Side" (155 BPM) is one of my recent favorites to spin for Lindy Hoppers.  Its a short, simple, swinger.  Listen to Clark Terry tear it up on muted trumpet!  A french horn provides an interesting tone to some of the songs.  There's also an interesting version of "Take the A Train" and other Ellington classics.  There are a number of mellow vocal songs at the end of the collection.
 
String of Pearls - Totally Swing (2000) 
Reviewed: 29 May 2000.  Ratings: *, L 
The playing and soloing in this San Francisco big-band is OK, but the singing is atrocious.  They cover some of the classic big band songs.  "Satin Doll" (147 BPM) is pretty good. 
 
Maxine Sullivan and her Jazz All-Stars - A Tribute to Andy Razaf (1956) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ***, LLLL
Out-of-print at Amazon.com as of Aug. 2000
I'm so glad I bought this CD.  I'd never heard of either Sullivan or Razaf, but this is one of those obscure CDs that Lindy-Hoppers love and find out about  by word of mouth (and by internet).  Andy Razaf was Fat's Waller's collaborator and a famous lyricist.   Sullivan's voice is backed by a minimal band, with a lot of use of muted trumpet (Charlie Shavers), and brushes on the drums, complimenting her voice and the arrangements perfectly.   This is wonderful, understated jazz.  "Massachusetts" (145 BPM) is a catchy, wonderful song.  "Stompin' At the Savoy" (150 BPM), "Christopher Columbus" (160 BPM) and a few others are also jewels. Some of the other songs are slow swinging, sentimental songs.  Many of the songs have long, slow introductions before the rhythm kicks in, but hey, I had to have something to complain about.  This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.  The import Maxine Sullivan Sings 1955-56 includes all of the songs on this CD and 12 others, but the other 12 aren't interesting in any way.  Just buy this CD.  (Note, as of Aug. 2000, Amazon.com didn't have this CD, try other retailers.)
 
Maxine Sullivan with the Scott Hamilton Quartet - Swingin' Sweet (1988) 
Reviewed: 19 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: **, L
Out-of-print
I loved the above Maxine Sullivan album so much that I've been looking for other good CDs by her.  This isn't one.  She's not that great of a singer, its the songs on the above Tribute that make her sound great.  And at 75, her voice is pleasant, but uninspired and occasionally straining.  This CD is a live recording of her singing standards.  Light modern jazz. Many slow songs here.  Lots of piano accompaniment.
 
Ron Sunshine & Full Swing - Straight Up (1998) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LL
This band is from the NYC area.  The CD has four covers and six originals and the musicianship is excellent.  Rather than blow you away with brass, this band centers on a piano, a single saxophone, and a harmonica.   The vocals and the solos all truly swing and hang.  This CD is a true pleasure to listen to.  But it has a problem typical of most swing CDs of missing the ideal Lindy tempo range, with five songs having tempos above 200 BPM.  I really like "Lounging at the Waldorf" (170 BPM) and play it frequently when I DJ. Visit website and store.
 
Ron Sunshine - Candy (Golden Bug Records - 2001) 
Reviewed: 17 March 2001.  Ratings: ***, LL
The feeling on this CD is much more "lounge" than the swing feel of Straight Up.  But it has the same excellent musicianship from Sunshine and his band.  Here is Sunshine paying tribute to the great jazz songwriters that influenced him.  These are his versions of vocal standards recorded by Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, and others.   He does the classics justice.   Tempos are restrained.  A number of songs are 103 to 125 BPM.  There's one Latin rhythm song.  There's two excellent slow songs, "Sweet Lorraine"and "Ain't No Use".  I also like "Tender Trap" (117 BPM) and a number of others.  If you like your music with a Sinatra feel, this is an excellent choice.

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The Swing Legacy - Dancing on a Blue Moon (Mephistopheles Records - 1998) 
Reviewed: 8 August 2002.  Ratings: ***, LLL
I like this Massachusetts band.  They play authentic swing, and they play it well.  I particularly like the female vocalist on some of the songs, Carol Akerson--she's expressive, on key, and her singing suits this style of music.  This isn't just a bunch of tired old geezers who get together on Saturdays at the local Elk's Hall to play the same 20 tired old swing songs that geezer bands always play.  Well, for all I know they could be a bunch of geezers, but at least they don't play the same songs as everyone else.  The song selection is refreshing and the arrangements are delightful.  I like "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" (116 BPM), "Lounging at the Waldorf" (189 BPM) and "Flying Home" (215 BPM).  This small seven-piece plays ambitiously large music.  The pianist and bandleader Henry Francis plays in the style of Fats Waller.  The playing is pretty tight, but not perfect.  The lack of many songs in my ideal dancing tempo range of 120 to 165 BPM hurt the Lindy rating.  The fast songs are quite good, however.  See their website for CD ordering information: www.swinglegacy.com.
 
New! Swan Silvertones - Savior Pass Me Not (Rhino, Collectables - 2001) 
Reviewed: 8 August 2003.  Ratings: ****, L
See CD at Amazon.com
The Swan Silvertones are a famous gospel band, and they are awesome.  Praise the lord!  Hallelujah!  Ooops, I forgot for a minute there that I wasn't religious.  These four singers sing so sweetly that it almost makes me want to go to church.  The song "How I Got Over" (162 BPM) swings relentlessly.  A lot of the others are too slow for dancing, or don't have a swinging rhythm.  This CD is a double CD of two albums recorded in 1959 and 1962.    
 
The Swing Session - The Swing Session (Jewel Records - 1999) 
Reviewed: 31 Oct. 1999.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a neat album by a great new San Francisco swing band.  This band isn't trying for some special sound or image.  This is just good solid jump-blues swing of the classic variety.  It is a mix of originals and covers of R&B songs by Roy Milton, Louis Prima, Joe Liggins, and others.  The male lead singer isn't smaltzy or full of attitude, he just sings the songs.  Tempos are mostly from 165 to 195 BPM, above where a lot of us prefer to Lindy, on average, but perfect for others.  This band is a simple sextet: vocal, piano, string bass, drums, trumpet, sax.  I like "My Baby's Sweet" (160 BPM), "That Night" (135 BPM), and "Soft" (163 BPM),  best.
 
The Swing Session - Whispering Grass (Jewel Records - 2001) 
Reviewed: 6 Dec. 2001.  Ratings: ****, LLLL
Swing Session plays excellent, infectious, swing-dance music with a classic sound.  My review of the first CD was a little understated, which is a shame, because the first album really grew on me.  So let me make it clear:  Swing Session is an stellar band and this CD is one of the best new CDs I've ever reviewed.  Three great things about Swing Session: 
  1. Their singer, Peter "Pops" Walsh, whose delivery is understated, perfect for these songs.  He never gets in the way of the rest of the band.  A perfect complement to the band. Humorous.  And always on-key. 
  2. The rest of the band.  A rhythm section that won't ever let you down or let you stop dancing!  A saxophonist that belts out the songs with incredible gusto and style.  A trumpet with perfect delivery and dynamics.  Every song so tight it squeeks.  
  3. The song writing and arrangements.  The excellent originals are by bass player "Little David" Rose.  The other songs are clever arrangements of various styles of songs, from obscure jump blues songs to songs with classic jazz structure.  There's a much greater variety of song structures on this CD than the first CD.

If that wasn't enough, the tempos average 155 BPM compared to 175 BPM on the first CD, so virtually every song on this CD is much more danceable by the average dancer.  My favorite songs include the originals: "April in Arkansas" (130 BPM), "Give and Take" (137 BPM), and "Flunky" (176 BPM), and the covers "How Come" (174 BPM), and "I Feel That Old Age Coming On" (153 BPM).  I usually struggle to find good things to say about new swing bands, but in this case I'm struggling to find anything bad to say, except that maybe they could give the piano and other instruments more solo space and bring in a few other instruments to vary the style and sound up a bit.    See www.stompyjones.com for CD ordering information.

 
Swing Session  also see Stompy Jones 
 
Swing That Music - Swing That Music (1994) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
This Swedish band is one of many proofs that the Swedes were into swing long before the revival started here in the US.  This CD was released in 1994 and its pretty damn good, even as its obvious that its not a real professional production on the same level as Bill Elliott or Pete Jacobs.  There are some rough spots, but the band is still pretty tight.  It is very listenable.  I can't tell much more about the band because the liner notes are all in Swedish, as is their website: http://www.hit.se/stm/   The do a pretty good "Sing, Sing, Sing" and at 3:33, its blessfully short.  The singing on "Why Don't You Do Right" (129) and some of the other songs are OK.  Some of the other vocals are a little weak, but at least they aren't in Swedish.  Ooops, spoke too soon. "Han kommer och bankar" (171 BPM) is.  Like a lot of big band collections, the average tempos are a bit high for my tastes, with a lot of songs in the range from 175 to 210 BPM
 
Swingerhead - She Could be a Spy (1997) 
Reviewed: 16 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
This band from Florida plays all swing and blues originals on this CD, a relative rarity.  Most of the bands out there cover the same Louis Jordan songs.  This band is a little Cherry Poppin' Daddyish, Royal Crown Revue-ish, but not fatally so.  The songs exhibit a good variety, but don't provide a lot of space for solos.  They are clearly intended to be pop hits, not jazz classics.  The band is tight.  Very tight, very professional.  Very well-done neoswing.  The lead singer sings deliberately tongue-in-cheek, acting his way through some of the songs.   I like to play "Lady With the Big Cigar" (115 BPM) and "At the Strip" (145 BPM).  A couple other songs are a mix of very fast and half-time, and not the best for dancing. 
 

Copyright 1999-2004 by Ronald Bloom


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