Ron's Swing CD Reviews


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Compilations - A to I J to R S to Z

 
T-Bone Walker - T-Bone Shuffle (Culture Press - 1998) 
Reviewed: 29 May 2000.  Ratings: ***½, LLL 
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T-Bone was basically the inventor of the modern electric-guitar style blues.  From the liner notes "A whole generation of young blues players took up electric guitar after listening to T-Bone records."  This is a collection of his early songs recorded between 1942 and 1947.  His guitar style is very restrained.  With piano, bass and drums, it all sets a groovy mood.  Occasional appearance of saxophones and trumpets, as well.  T-Bone is a great expressive singer.  Lots of great slow blues songs.  A few songs, like the heavily covered "T-Bone Shuffle" (139 BPM) are danceable, as is "She's the No-Sleepin'est Woman" (123 BPM) and "I Know Your Wig is Gone" (145 BPM) and a few others.  Too many of the songs sound the same. 
 
Dinah Washington - The Swingin' Miss D (1998) 
Reviewed: 15 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: **½, LL
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One of the famous singers of the past, Dinah Washington sang a lot of pop hits, but this is an album of jazz songs, backed by a big band, Quincy Jones & his Orchestra.  Originally recorded in 1956, this album has a lot of slow songs.  Only a couple songs are over 140.  Her voice is interesting, a bit of attitude, but many of these songs aren't inspiring to me.  She sings a lot of standards, I like her version of "Making Whoopee" (130 BPM).  Nice liner notes.  Wait, "You Let My Love Grow Cold" (92 BPM) is a great blues song.
 
Dinah Washington - Dinah Jams (Polygram - 1990) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
Despite the title, Dinah doesn't jam too hard on this CD.  Recorded in 1954, there's a lot of sleepy jazz here and a couple 10-minute high tempo songs.  Scarely anything of interest to a swing dancer. 
 
Benny Waters Quartet - Swinging Again (Jazzpoint - 1993) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: **½, L
At the time this was recorded in 1993, Benny Waters was 93 and blind, but was still playing a sweet alto saxophone.  The jazz is swinging, but its of the modern style, recorded in a jazz combo, and most of it is too fast for my tastes. 
 
Chick Webb - Stomping at the Savoy (Jazz Archive - 2000) 
Reviewed: 9 August 2003.  Ratings: ****, LLL½
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Chick Webb's songs are tight, catchy, and full of interesting patterns and breaks.  His band wasn't as famous as others, but was the equal of any.  The songs are faster than I prefer to dance to, but if you like your swing dancing music fast and with a classic sound, Chick Webb should be high on your list.   Ella Fitzgerald sings in some of the songs.  The arrangements are simple and punchy.  There's too many good tracks on here to name.  The arrangements and the soloists rock.  The playing is soooo tight.
 
Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad (Mammoth Records - 1999) 
Reviewed: 30 Nov. 2000.  Ratings: ****, LL½
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This solo effort by Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers is quite good.  The songs are mostly covers of jazz standards.  The backing band features piano, guitar, bass, drums, and saxophone.  The combination of an excellent band, Katharine's distinctive and soothing Billy-Holliday-like voice and a great selection of songs makes for a very enjoyable CD.  At 38 minutes, its a little short, however.  Tempos of the 12 songs are 173, 121, 182, <100, 181, 165, <100, 170, 179, 98, 73, 130.   I like her moderate-tempo, groovy, "Now or Never" (165 BPM).  She does credible versions of "My Baby Just Cares For Me" (130 BPM) and "Deed I Do" (173 BPM).  Plenty of room is given to the band for jazz solos. 
 
Bob Wilbur and the Tuxedo Big Band of Toulouse, France - Fletcher Henderson's Unrecorded Arrangements for Benny goodman (Arbors Records - 2000) 
Reviewed: 16 Feb. 2002.  Ratings: **½, L½
The playing on this CD is tight, but its not moving me.  The authentic sounding big-band songs are more on the "sweet" side.  Even the fast songs have melodies on the mellow side.   After a while, all the songs sound the same to me.
 
Lily Wilde and her Jumpin' Jubilee Orchestra - Insect Ball (1999) 
Reviewed: 25 March 2000.  Ratings: ***½, LLLL
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This Portland swing band is excellent.  Their large band provides a full solid swinging sound, and Lily's singing alternately soars and soothes. They cover a lot of my favorite Buddy/Ella Johnson and Ella Mae Morse songs and do them very well!  No other band I know covers these songs.  Great choices.  This band would undoubtedly be great to see and dance to.  The tempos of the 13 songs are all at or below 175 BPM or below, with 4 below 105 BPM.  Lily's singing of the excellent Buddy Johnson song "No More Love" (128 BPM) is great, especially compared to the off-key singing on the original!  Good trumpet solo, too.  I also like "Mister Five by Five" (125 BPM), "Rip Van Winkle" (136 BPM), "Til My Baby Comes Back to Me" (113 BPM) and "Work Baby Work" (175 BPM).  Heck, I think I like all of them.  Definitely a great swing dancing band. 
 
Claude Williams - SwingTime in New York (Progressive - 1995) 
Reviewed: 23 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
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Claude Williams plays jazz violin.  Some of these songs swing nicely, if you don't mind the violin.  I'm not that crazy about it.  The songs, in a small jazz group format, sound nice, the backing band seems very capable.  However, he shouldn't try to sing, his vocals mar a couple of songs. 
 
Cootie Williams - In Hi-Fi (RCA - 1958) 
Reviewed: 27 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
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Cootie Williams, a member of Duke Ellington's band from 1929 to 1940 and from 1962 and on, recorded this 12-song big-band album originally in 1958.  This re-issue includes 11 extra tunes showing how Williams survived much of the 50's--as a leader of a swinging R&B group.  The big-band tunes are well-done and sonically beautiful, but are almost all mellow in nature.  They just don't make me want to move.  Tempos are almost all 133 BPM and under.  Williams distinctive growling and use of the mute with his trumpet are a pleasure to listen to.  The R&B tunes aren't distinctive, except again, Williams playing, which isn't enough to rescue them.  Lots of slower tunes here too, from ballads and other songs up to 130 BPM.   Lots of silly slow vocal songs.  "Rinky-Dink" (116 BPM) is OK. 
 
Cootie Williams - Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Cootie Williams (Collectible Records - 2000) 
Reviewed: 24 Sept. 2002.  Ratings: **, LL½
Some times I don't know why I bother buying this stuff.  The clips sounded OK, but the songs all have a relentless shuffle rhythm and sameness that makes them bland and boring to me.  Cootie's solos don't thrill me.  
 
Joe Williams - Best Of (Blue Note - 1997) 
Reviewed: 25 April 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
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Recorded with Basie's bands and other orchestras.  Songs were recorded 1957 to 1970.  I detest his smarmy ballads with full orchestral backing.  When one comes on I hit "skip" faster than you can say "violin".  But the swinging tracks with Basie and others are great.  I like "Every Day I Have the Blues" (124 BPM), the live version of "All Right, OK, You Win" (135 BPM) and the blues song "Confessin' The Blues" (92 BPM).  If there were more swingin' tunes I would have given it better ratings.
 
Joe Williams - Me and the Blues (RCA/Victor - 1999) 
Reviewed: 25 Sept. 2000.  Ratings: ****, LLL
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This CD contains a wealth of slow-tempo swinging blues songs.  Recorded in 1963, the sound and the sound quality are fantastic.  This album isn't for those that like their swing up-tempo--all songs are 135 BPM and below.  Williams voice is full and rich.  His crooner tendencies are less evidence here on this CD.  His voice is great for the blues.  The backup band is also great--a full sounding band.  Complete with tinkling piano, terrific muted trumpet, and sexy saxophone sounds.  Not much room to solo, but great backup accompaniment to Williams singing.  One of the many good songs is "I'm Sticking With You Baby" (121 BPM). 
 
Joe Williams - And Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (Blue Note Records - 1994) 
Reviewed: 30 Nov. 2000.  Ratings: **½, LL
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I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I'm not crazy about this CD.   Recorded in 1966, only 3 years after the CD above that I love so much.  Maybe its the empty hall sound effect, which I dislike.  I also don't like the backup band as much.  The accompaniment seems to mostly consist of big blasts by the horns.  The first song, "Get Out Of My Life" (177 BPM) is a good hip-hop rhythm song.  I just read other reviews in books that consider this one of his finest CDs, go figure.  "Evil Man Blues" (93 BPM) is good blues. 
 
Joe Williams - The Best of the Verve Years (Verve/Polygram - 1993) 
Reviewed: 25 July 2003.  Ratings: ****, LLL
This is great stuff!  A collection of great tracks from Joe Williams on a 2-CD set.  The whole first CD is his best stuff with Basie (or variations on the Basie band) from 5 CDs recorded in 1956 and 1957, and it smokes.  Great live versions, great sound quality.   The 2nd CD has songs recorded in the 1980's, and his voice is showing its age.  The songs are longer and have a much more modern feel.  He's backed by a jazz trio, not a big band. The first CD is much better.  
 
Robbie Williams - Swing When You're Winning (Crysalis - 2001) 
Reviewed: 12 April 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL½
Pop singer Robbie Williams, formerly of Take That, does an album of lounge swing music.  The whole CD has a lot of Sinatra-ish crooning, with backing strings.  Well-done Sinatra-ish crooning, to be sure. His version of "Mack the Knife" (160 BPM) is very decent.   His duet with Nicole Kidman is sweet.
 
Jimmy Witherspoon - Ain't Nobody's Business (1992) 
Reviewed: 16 Aug. 1999.  Ratings: *, L 
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This live recording swings in a slow, bluesy, way, but the Jazz-Me Blues best-of collection is much better in all respects, especially for dancing. 
 
Jimmy Witherspoon - Jazz Me Blues/Best Of (Prestige - 1998) 
Reviewed: 21 Aug. 1999, updated 20 April 2002.  Ratings: ****½, LLL½
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This is a fantastic jazz blues CD.  This is perhaps my favorite blues album.  You know the kind--filled with those sad slow blues songs.  They really groove.  But there are a number of faster songs, too, perfect for Lindy dancing, and these are modern classics, often spun by swing DJs.  You gotta love:
  • "Good Rockin Tonight" (155 BPM) - Lots of energy in this song about dancing. 
  • "Bad Bad Whiskey" (125 BPM) - Relentless swinging rhythm.
  • "When the Lights Go Out" (104 BPM) - Great breaks, great for blues dancing.
  • "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" (126 BPM) - A drinking problem makes for great dancing.
  • "Money's Getting Cheaper" (133 BPM) - Perhaps his most famous song.

These songs never seem to get old to me, and this CD only gets better upon repeated listening.  The slow songs are sublime.  Tracks were recorded 1956 to 1966, during Witherspoon's prime, and represents a best-of collection.  I love Witherspoon's voice.  So expressive.  Earthy, powerful and dynamic.  The saxophone and piano playing are equally incredible.  All the musicians are the finest.

 
Jimmy Witherspoon - Singin' The Blues (1998) 
Reviewed: 20 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: ***½, LL½
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Five of these songs are on the Jazz Me Blues collection.  Most of the songs are slow blues songs.  Damn fine blues.  Album was originally recorded in 1958.  The real find here is "It Ain't What You're Thinkin" (147 BPM) featuring Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet.  It also has a cool repeating musical phrase that you can really play with when you dance. "There's Good Rockin' Tonight" (154 BPM) is good and also on the Jazz Me Blues collection.  The instrumental "Midnight Blues" (134 BPM) is good, too.
 
Jimmy Witherspoon - Blowin In from Kansas City (Flair/Virgin Records - 1991) 
Reviewed: 19 April 2000.  Ratings: **½, L½
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I love Jimmy Witherspoon so I bought another one of his CDs.  However, this one was recorded in the late '40s and early '50s when he was considered a blues shouter and I'm not as crazy about it as his later, more relaxed work.  There's still some good blues here, both fast and slow, but not many stand out. Sound quality is a little sketchy on many of these songs.
 
Jimmy Witherspoon and Groove Holmes - Spoon and Groove
Reviewed: 29 May 2000.  Ratings: **, L½ 
This is not one of Witherspoon's best CDs, but its not bad.  The songs don't command my attention like his others do, neither the slow Lindyable songs, or the slow blues.  Featuring Groove Holmes on organ.  The performances sound a little sloppy, and the sound a little echoey. 
 
Jimmy Witherspoon - with the Junior Mance Trio (Stony Plain Records - 1997) 
Reviewed: 16 Feb. 2002.  Ratings: ***, LL½
Witherspoon is one of the greatest blues singer of the post-war period.  On this CD he may be a little past his prime, but he can still sing the blues like nobody's business.  There's a great version of "Time's Gettin' Tougher" (133 BPM) on this live CD.  These songs were recorded in France in 1969.   The sound is a little echoey, but OK.  Fun version of "I'm Gonna Move To the Outskirts of Town" (120 BPM).  Mance on piano does a great job accompanying spoon.
 
Mitch Woods & His Rocket 88's - Jump for Joy (Records - 2001) 
Reviewed: 3 Nov. 2001.  Ratings: **, LL½
Mitch Woods has been playing jump blues in San Francisco for decades and I thought I'd better pick up the latest of his many CDs to see what he's all about.  His style isn't my favorite, but its well-done.  I'd listen to his stuff over Cherry Poppin Daddies anytime.  He plays these 12 original songs with flair and excellence.   Tempos average around 165 BPM.  With a heavy horn style, hard driving beat, and exaggerated vocal delivery, this CD will not appeal to groovy jazz lovers.  His lyrics throw in "Hi-de-hi-de-ho" and things like that.  
 
Yallopin' Hounds - Ghetto Swing Extreme (1999) 
Reviewed: 24 Dec. 1999.  Ratings: ****½, LLL½
There's plenty to like about this CD.  From the tight jazz sound to the funny band member list, featuring parenthetically "Scary Hound, Posh, Tough, Zen, Militant, Mystery, and Crazy Hound".  This NYC band is a dancer's favorite.  The Lindy-Hoppers have it rough out there: "Well, tonight, which great local swing band should I go to... George Gee, the Camaros, the Yalloppin' Hounds, or ...?"  Jeez, some of us are stuck in San Diego.  (But then again, it was 75° today, on Christmas Eve!)  This CD features a good mix of songs and tempos.  The sound and production is excellent as well.  Don't be scared away by the album title--it's actually pretty classic swing, almost all original, Ellington-style jazz. Good sax, piano, string bass, the works.  A "ghetto swing" song is, according to the liner notes, a traditional swing format laced with humorous urban colloquialisms of the late 1990s.  (They only rap briefly once or twice).  Good lyrics in "You Ain't Sh**" (216 BPM).  Nothing like a good break punctuated followed by a tight sax solo.  There's 64 minutes of music to enjoy here.  My favorites are "Hot Dog" (163 BPM) with its breaks (and shouted cues for dancers: "freeze!"), "Oops, My Bad!" (143 BPM), and a version of "Flat Foot Floogie" (163 BPM) at a tempo that I can actually dance to.  You can hear samples of the songs on MP3.com. I highly recommend this CD.  See the hounds home page to order the CD.
 
Yallopin' Hounds - New Yallopin' City (2001) 
Reviewed: 8 Sept. 2001.  Ratings: ***, LLL
After listening to CD after CD of the same old stuff, its great to hear one chock full of totally original songs.  That this NYC swing band is still surviving is a sign of their talent and originality.   A large number of the songs are in the right tempo range for Lindy-hop dancing.   But it all comes down to the songs themselves, are they inspiring?  Unfortunately, I'm not hearing "hit" songs like "Oops My Bad" or "Flat Foot Floogie" from their first CD, and in general, this CD isn't as good as their first effort.  But there's a number of songs that are catchy, but with little in the way of lyrical content or depth.  There's a variety of lead singers, none of them consistently excellent.  My favorite song on the album is probably "Sun Ray" (167 BPM).  After a short rap intro it turns into a sweet song with an good female vocalist.  I don't like many of the saxophone solos in these songs where it seems the goal is to put as many notes as possible into the air in the shortest time.  It might be impressive, but it doesn't honour the song, in my opinion.  I like the line in the catchy "Swing Free Rider" (129 BPM): "...pay your cover charge and leave your water bottle at the door." There's also a fun number for Hip-hop Lindy: "Thugbrat" (165 BPM).  There's one song that starts well, and it really grooves, too:  "Jacquet, Here's Your Jacket!" (141 BPM).  But then he talks for most of the rest of the song. It is funny when he says "This is not a Charleston, Madam."
 
Lester Young - This is Jazz 26 (Columbia - 1997) 
Reviewed: 8 Sept. 2001.  Ratings: ***½, LL½
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This chronologically arranged collection highlights Young's early years, from 1936 to 1943.  He plays as a sideman in a variety of bands and small groups, mostly Basie's Orchestra, Basie's Kansas City Seven and Billy Holliday & Orchestra.   Young's light and smooth sound and behind-the-beat phrasing was an entirely new sound, compared to Coleman Hawkins more powerful sound, and inspired the musical movement known as "cool" or "West Coast" jazz. Sound quality ranges from hideous to poor, which is typical of the period.  But I dig Young's solos.  This is swinging stuff, hot jazz at its finest.  Many of the songs are 180 BPM and above.  There's a great version of "All Of Me" (113 BPM) sung by Billy Holliday that features Young.
 
Snooky Young & Marshal Royal - Snooky's & Marshal's Album (Concord Records - 1978) 
Reviewed: 2 Jan. 2002.  Ratings: ****, LL
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I just love Snooky Young's trumpet playing.  He often plays with a mute, making his sound understated and very distinctive.  Both Young and Royal played with Basie at various times.  I've always appreciated his playing on various Jimmy & Jeannie Cheatham's albums.  Royal plays saxophone.  The rest of band is hot, too.  "Limehouse Blues" (148 BPM) swings very well for dancing.  The musical feel of these songs is more towards the classic side, not as boppish.
 

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