Ron's Swing CD Reviews


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Compilations - A to I J to R S to Z

 
Sirens of Swing - Great Songs of the '30s and '40s - Various Artists (Intersound - 2000) 
Reviewed: 21 Dec. 2000.  Ratings: **, L 
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a 2-CD collection (pulled from a 4-CD box set) of the famous songs by all the famous names, one or two songs each from Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Anita O'Day, Kay Starr, Nellie Lutcher, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Lena Horn, Doris Day, Sarah Vaughan, Pearl Bailey.  Great list of singers!  It sounded great to me too, but the songs are mostly all ballads.  If you like sweet ballads and nostalgia from the '40s, this may be a good collection for you.  These women sure can sing.  If you are looking for danceable songs, stay clear.  I was pretty disappointed.  The Sarah Vaughan "Love Me or Leave Me" (120 BPM) isn't the upbeat version found elsewhere, this is a sleepy orchestral version.  Pearl Bailey's "Tess' Torch Song (I Had a Man)" (120 BPM), is OK and you can't lose with "I'm Beginning to See the Light" (115 BPM) by Kitty Kallen and Harry James.  Despite the title, all songs were recorded in the 40's.  Sound quality isn't the best.   
 
Sweet and Lowdown Soundtrack (Sony - 1999) 
Reviewed: 5 August 2001.  Ratings: ****, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a movie well worth seeing.  And the soundtrack is well worth buying and listening to.  The movie is a Woody Allen directed movie about a jazz guitarist in the 30's.  Its based on a true musician who was considered the second best guitar player at the time, after Django Reinhardt.  The character, played by Sean Penn, is quite a jerk, and one of the interesting things about the movie is how this unlikeable person is able to create such beautiful music and express himself so wonderfully on the guitar.  There's a number of songs and partial songs on the movie, and this CD includes most of them.  The songs are arranged and conducted by Dick Hyman and the guitar played by Howard Alden.  There are also two originals included.  Many of the songs have that bouncy 20's-30's dixieland feel.  Most of the songs are 175 BPM and up.  I love the version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" (233 BPM, 2:19) with its beautiful guitar melody line, bouncy rhythm, clarinet backing and sweet breaks.   My favorite on the CD is the groovier "3:00 AM Blues" (140 BPM), but at 6:15 its pretty long for dancers.  Lots of good Balboa dance songs. 
 
Swing Dance Party - Various Artists (Collectables - 1999) 
Reviewed: 16 Oct. 2002.  Ratings: *, L,
This is a collection of obscure R&B tunes from the late 40's from artists that recorded for Gotham records.  There's a reason this music is so obscure.  The singing is rough and the saxophone solos simplistic.  The tunes are not memorable.  Egads, I wonder why I bought this.  I thought I was thru making such mistakes!  OK, there's one good tune, by Ray Bryant.
 
Swing! Original Broadway Cast Recording (Sony - 2000) 
Reviewed: 20 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
This CD has cute songs, suitable for a Broadway show, but not necessarily the best for dancing.   Some songs are medleys of other songs, others have weird breaks.  I hate medleys.  The songs are mostly covers, including the practically required "In the Mood" and "Sing Sing Sing".  The band is Casey MacGill and The Gotham City Gates, the singers are Casey MacGill or Ann Hampton Callaway and others.  The sound is great, the band is tight but small.  The show highlights various swing styles from Lindy Hop to West Coast Swing to Latin Swing to country Western Swing.  Ryan and Jenny are on the cover.   Most of the songs are for showy performance, and aren't great for listening or dancing to. 
 
Swing! Soundtrack - Lisa Stansfield, et al. (1999) 
Reviewed: 18 Aug.1999.  Ratings: **, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
These are mostly covers, some written and most sung by Lisa Stansfield. The movie is obscure.  I don't think her voice is the best for this stuff, and a couple of the songs are cheesy.  But she does do a good version of "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens" (160 BPM).  I heard a great saxophone, it's Clarence Clemons!
 
Swing Party! - House Rockin Swing and Jump Jive Boogie - Various Artists (1999) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug.1999.  Ratings: *, LL 
See CD at Amazon.com
This is one of the many jump blues collections available featuring classic black R&B artists.  Others are better.  The sound quality of many of these songs is poor, fuzzy sounding.  Some of the songs swing very hard.
 
Swing Kids Soundtrack - Various Artists (1993) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug.1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL
See CD at Amazon.com
I suppose this is an essential CD for any serious swing CD collector. But it certainly has its problems.  Every other song is some gloomy string thing from the movie, not even swing.  Get ready with the skip button, its like a return of Lennon/Ono's "Double Fantasy", only worse. And if you are like me, you are really really sick of "Sing, Sing, Sing" (210 BPM).  Any version of it.  By anybody.  But if I have to listen to it, I'd just as soon hear this well-done 5 minute version, based on Benny Goodman's version.   (Now that I'm a DJ I can actually say joyfully to people who request it "Sorry, not tonight!")  But the CD has other highlights, including the scorching song "Shout and Feel it!", a Basie tune that is featured in the movie, starting with a cool acoustic guitar intro, and "Life Goes to a Party!/Jumpin' At the Woodside", both at about 210 BPM.  I've seen awesome swing dance performances done to both these songs.  The biggest dancer's favorite is probably "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" a fun mix of tempos (150/85/190 BPM).  There are also some really old ancient-sounding originals by Ellington, Slim & Slam and Benny Goodman.    Even from a 1936 recording you can really feel the energy of Goodman's playing of a Fletcher Henderson song, "Swingtime in the Rockies".  Yup, this is an essential CD.  Also, rent the movie, so you can study the cool swing dance scenes, and mock the plot.  This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.
 
Swing Time - Various Artists (Allegro Music - 1995) 
Reviewed: 30 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a double-CD collection of Big Band songs.  There are better big-band collections.  All the great bands are represented in these 28 songs.  There's some of the common big-band hits here, like Miller's "In the Mood" and Ellington's "Take the A-Train", but also more obscure songs by Lucky Millinder, Bobby Sherwood, Earl Hines, Benny Moten, Claude Hopkins, Andy Kirk.  Many have fuzzy sound.  There's no liner notes, so I can't even tell the year a certain song was recorded. But I must say, some of these songs really swing.  They grab my attention. Fantastic jazz soloing.
 
Swing Time! The Fabulous Swing Era 1925 - 1955 [Box Set] (Columbia/Legacy 1993) 
Reviewed: 17 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a great big band compilation.  It contains 66 songs recorded from 1925 to 1955, in chronological order, with only the last six past 1945.  Its interesting to see the music changing over time.  Great booklet with this box set, containing a history of the big-band era as well as details of each band and song.  Soloists are identified.  The bands are not just the well-known names.  The songs are varied and musically interesting. Consistently good. The first seven songs on disk 2, for example, are each a treat.  Recorded in 1936, the songs are by Teddy Hill, Don Albert, Joe Haymes, Hudson-de Lange, and Ben Pollack, Mills Blue Rhythm and Louis Prima bands.  Other songs by Hawkins, Barnet, Dorsey, Ellington, Berigan, Crosby, Henderson, Savitt, etc.  Sound quality is as good as could be expected.  I don't understand it, but the same 8-1-39 version of Miller's "In the Mood" sounds better here than on my Essential Glenn Miller collection.  Lots of other standards here, from "Let Me Off Uptown" to "Moten Swing".  Tempos mixed, but most of Disk 1's songs are above 200 BPM.
 
Swingers Soundtrack - Various Artists (1996) 
Reviewed: 14 Jan.2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
This CD has a strange collection of songs.  From various Big Bad Voodoo Daddy songs, to Dean Martin, Louis Jordan, the Jazz Jury, and even the Average White Band.  Half the CD isn't even swing.  There's lounge, funk and latin on here.  If you liked BBVD in the movie, just buy their 1998 CD.  Skip this one.  This CD does have the latin-rhythm BBVD song "I Wanna Be Like You" which is OK and not on their 1998 CD.  And "King of the Road" by Roger Miller (119 BPM) is an unexpected swing song that's OK, too.
 
Swingin' Christmas - Various Artists (1998) 
Reviewed: 20 Dec.1999.  Ratings: ***, LL 
Out-of-print as of Aug. 2000
This is a Christmas swing CD for those who like the modern neo-swing sound.  Featuring modern versions of 12 classic Christmas songs by these NYC bands: Heavenly 7, Ron Sunshine, Swingtips, Flipped Fedoras & Set 'Em Up Joe.  I like the three Ron Sunshine songs and could do without the rest.  The others just don't do it for me, from the male vocalists with their exaggerated attitudes, to the choice of songs.  I'm sorry, I just don't think "The Christmas Song" by the Swingtips sounds good as an up-tempo swing song loaded with horns and a loungey vocalist.  Ron Sunshine's songs have a more laid-back swinging sound, are less neo-sounding, and feature sax, piano, harmonica, upright bass and tight musicianship.  The tempos of all of the songs range from 122 to 196 BPM.  My favorite is "Merry Christmas Baby" (137 BPM) by Ron Sunshine with its piano, blues breaks, and hanging vocals.

For other holiday CDs, I recommend the Yule B Swingin compilation, and the Ella Fitzgerald Christmas CD.

 
Swingin' the Blues Volume 1 - Various Artists (Wanna Dance Records) (1997) 
Reviewed: 17 Aug.1999.  Ratings: ***, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This is the first CD in a series of modern jump blues albums. This album comes with BPMs on the back of the CD, and a lot of the tempos are 125 to 135 BPM.  Great tunes--they do make me want to move.  But a lot of these songs aren't quite right for Lindy.  The CD was more intended for a  West-Coast style swing dancer. 
 
Swingin' the Blues Volume II - Various Artists (Wanna Dance Records - 1997) 
Reviewed: 25 April 2000.  Ratings: **, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
Like Volume I, this contains 14 low to mid-tempo modern blues songs most suitable for West-Coast swing dancers.  Many don't even have a swing tempo at all, but that doesn't both West-Coasties.  There are songs by Tommy Ridgley, Johnnie Johnson, Celinda Pink, etc.  And for Lindy-Hoppers, there's the studio version of Ernestine Anderson's "I Love Being Here With You" (120 BPM).  Most of the tempos fall between 110 and 125 BPM. 
 
Swingin' the Blues Volume III - Various Artists (Wanna Dance Records - 1997) 
Reviewed: 25 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
More fun, upbeat, modern jump blues tunes.  Electric guitars and organs very much in evidence.  Well-done songs, but again, many don't actually have a swing rhythm.  Most of the tempos are between 101 and 137 BPM. 
 
Swingin' to Sting and the Police, a Tribute - Various Artists (Vitamin Records - 1999) 
Reviewed: 31 Oct.1999.  Ratings: **,
See CD at Amazon.com
This album has some good music, but its not for dancing.  The person that sent me this album must have not realized that I'm reviewing swing albums from a dancer's perspective, or that this isn't dance music.  Most of these songs don't have the tempos or rhythms for dancing.  One song is danceable, at 210 BPM, and it swings nicely. I did have a fun time listening to this CD without looking at the title of the song, playing "name that Police tune".  Really great musicianship on this album, and interesting arrangements.   I really like Sting and the Police but I'm not crazy about these modern jazz instrumental interpretations.  Many of the songs sound like they belong on an easy-listening radio station.  I prefer the originals. Addendum: Swingin to Michael Jackson, a Tribute - Various Artists (2000) is equally as awful.
 
Swinging Sounds of the Great Bands - Glen Gray & The Casa Loma Orchestra (EMI/Capitol - 1999) 
Reviewed: 11 April 2000.  Ratings: *, L
See CD at Amazon.com
The songs here are hi-fi reproductions of the famous big-band songs, much like the Time-Life collection reviewed below.    Many of the songs (recorded in late 50's) have this awful echo/reverb that make it sound like the band was in a huge empty room.  Yuck!  Some sound engineer's idea of a cool stereo effect, probably.  It ruins many of the songs.  Other songs are OK.  There's a good version of "Back Bay Shuffle" (194 BPM).  I can't find much to like about most of the other songs, either because of the ugly echo/stereo effects, or the version is much worse than either the original or another hi-fi version I have on another album.   
 
Swingtime I and II (Time-Life - 1999) 
Reviewed: 21 April 2000.  Ratings: **, LL
From Time-Life, this 4-CD set (containing 60 songs) is an attempt to closely recreate (down to the solos) certain versions of the famous big-band songs, but recorded in modern hi-fidelity.  I can't tell when they were recorded, probably after 1965.  The songs were recorded by two big bands: Billy May's and Glen Gray's.  A lot of these songs aren't too bad, but a few of the Glen Gray songs are the awful versions heard on the Swinging Sounds of the Great Bands CD.   But a couple of the other Glen Gray songs are good--the same versions as on the highly-recommended Oscillatin' Rhythm and Big Bands in Hi-Fi CDs.  Many of the Goodman songs were already redone in hi-fi better by Goodman himself on BG in Hi-Fi.  Same for the Basie songs.  But in general, this is a good collection of the big-band classics redone in hi-fi, but be prepared to hit the skip button.  Some of the versions just don't have the edge that the originals did.  You'll find the CD on the time-life website.
 
Talk to Me Daddy - Various Artists (Flyright Records - 1991) 
Reviewed: 18 August 2002.  Ratings: **, L
This is a collection of songs recorded in the late '40's by women.  The sound quality is terrible and the songs are mostly forgettable.   
 
A Taste of Swing Time - Various Artists (Night Train records - 1991) 
Reviewed: 20 Feb. 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
Songs from such bands as Johnny Otis, Lowell Fulson, Lloyd Glenn, Charles Brown.  No liner notes, but the cover says "Rare and Unreleased Recordings 1947-1952".  The songs are slow blues, or faster blues that swings.  The songs are probably rare and unreleased for a reason--they aren't that notable.  But I found a couple that I like out of the 24 songs and a couple more that I already had or had a better version of.
 
That Thing You Do (motion picture soundtrack) - Various Artists (Sony - 1996) 
Reviewed: 19 May 2003.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
I saw this movie again recently and its just so cute, so I bought the soundtrack.  A couple of the songs done by the "Wonders" are danceable by Lindyhoppers, even though they don't have a swing rhythm:  "That Thing You Do" (134 BPM), and "Dance With Me" (142 BPM).  They are mostly simple, happy, energetic songs in the 60's style.  Other songs are by the other make-believe bands shown in the movie.  
 
Time-Life Treasury of Christmas - Various Artists (1997) 
Reviewed: 21 Dec.1999.  Ratings: ***, LL 
This is a 3-CD collection of all the classic Christmas songs, sung by the classic artists.  Of the 36 songs, about 5 or 6 swing, including "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee (145 BPM), "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms (122 BPM), and "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Gene Autry (194 BPM), all wonderful!  But a little cheesy.  The collection also has the definitive non-swing versions of "It's the Most Wonderful Time.." by Andy Williams, and "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby.  Some orchestra and choir songs.  Nostalgia central, here. 
 
Toy Story 2 Soundtrack - Various Artists (1999) 
Reviewed: 21 Dec.1999.  Ratings: **, L 
See CD at Amazon.com
The movie is great.  And the song that played during the closing credits made me do swingouts up the aisle.  So I bought the soundtrack for one song.  I should stop doing that.  The song is "You've Got a Friend in Me" (133 BPM), written by Randy Newman and sung by Robert Goulet.   Good band backup.  There's an instrumental version on the CD, too, featuring saxophonist Tom Scott.  OK, its a little cheesy, but a little cheese can be good for you.  Most of the rest of the CD is icky string instrumental background music.  Great movie.  Incidentally, my nephews named their cats "Woody" and "Buzz"--isn't that cute?
 
West Coast Jive - Various Artists (Delmark Records - 1992) 
Reviewed: 27 April 2000.  Ratings: **, L
See CD at Amazon.com
Yet another R&B collection.  Songs were recorded in 1945 and 1946 and are by Wynonie Harris, Al Russell, Duke Henderson, Frank Haywood, and Cee Pee Johnson.  Its OK.  Sound quality is low.   
 
Wicked Swing - Various Artists (BMG - 1998) 
Reviewed: 27 Mar. 2001.  Ratings: **, LL
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a great collection of fast swing songs from the big-band era.  Dancers who like their swing blisteringly fast will love this collection.  From the first song, Artie Shaw's "Diga Diga Doo" (208 BPM) it never slows down.  Tempos rarely dip below 200 BPM, fastest song is over 330 BPM!  Excellent songs by Glenn Miller, Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Bennie Moten, and many others.  Most of these 20 songs (61 minutes) were recorded from 1932 to 1941. 
 
Wild, Cool & Swingin' - Ultra Lounge, Vol. 5  - Various Artists (1996) 
Reviewed: 15 Aug.1999.  Ratings: ***, LLL 
See CD at Amazon.com
This is a great collection of lounge swing.  It's very fun!  It's packed with great danceable songs from the likes of Dean Martin, Sam Butera & the Witnesses, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Lou Rawls and Wayne Newton.  It has Prima's "Jump, Jive & Wail" (195 BPM).  I won't claim that this type of swing is everyone's taste, but you may be as surprised as I was at how much you like the songs to listen and dance to.  I've read & heard that the sequel collection Wild, Cool & Swinging, too! isn't as good. 
 
Yule B' Swingin' - Various Artists (Hip-O/Universal - 1998) 
Reviewed: 29 Nov. 1999, updated 17 Nov. 2000.  Ratings: ***, LLLL 
See CD at Amazon.com
This is by far the best Holiday swing CD I've found. There's 39 minutes of music here seemingly chosen to be good for dancing, and the CD even has LA dancer/instructors Eric & Sylvia on the cover.  Its focus is on the older stuff--no modern swing here.  Great tempos for dancing: of the 14 songs, two are below 80 BPM, two are above 220 BPM, and the rest range from 113 to 195 BPM. Too many good songs to list, by Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Ralph Marterie, Les Brown, Lionel Hampton, Kay Starr, Ella Fitzgerald, Pete Fountaine and others.  Most are vocals.  I love the closing trumpet solo in Miller's "Jingle Bells" (189 BPM), it sends me!  "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" by Ralph Marterie (166 BPM) is good.  As is the cool "Cool Yule" by Louis Armstrong (156 BPM).  And the fun "Everybody Waitin' For the Man with the Bag" (143 BPM) by Kay Starr is the highlight of the CD.  This is a Ron's recommended essential swing CD.
 
Yule B' Swingin' Too! - Various Artists (Hip-O/Universal - 2000) 
Reviewed: 17 Nov. 2000.  Ratings: ***, LLL 
See CD at Amazon.com
If you liked the first volume, you'll probably like this second installment, but I think the first one is a bit better.  The good songs on this volume are, in my opinion, the high-speed improvisational "Jingle Bells" by Duke Ellington (215 BPM), the long (4:35) "Let It Snow" by Joe Williams (132 BPM) featuring a groovy saxophone solo, "Dixieland Band from Santa Claus Land" by Jimmy Dorsey (177 BPM), "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" by Lionel Hampton (145 BPM), and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" by Billy Holiday (155 BPM). 
 

Copyright 1999-2003 by Ronald Bloom


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