You’ve probably never heard of any of the artists on the three-CD boxed set called Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights (The Numero Group) but — just like in a horror movie where you sorta don’t wanna recognize the actors because it might ruin the illusion — the kind of long-ago and far-away one-hit wonders herein, as the tracks unfold, become a soundtrack to a movie in your mind. It was a time in pop culture that gave rise to a new genre, a genre that never had its own radio format, or chart, or tours or even mass acceptance.
In the late ’50s/early ‘60s, a genre of music that came to be known as exotica — complete with bird calls, conga drums and the sound of wild animals — became something of a hipster’s guilty pleasure. It was a soothing mélange of middle-of-the-road easy-listening lounge music coupled with guitar instrumentals, surf-rock, South Pacific-styled Broadway flourishes and supper-club vocals. Artists ranged from Darla Hood who, as a child, was in the Our Gang series, comedian/actress Martha Raye, soul-bop organist Jimmy McGriff and dozens of one-hit wonders. Guess what? They’ve all been compiled in the strangest three-CD box of the year.
Disc 1—“Daiquiri Dirges”—has the kind of instrumentals great for setting a scene, as long as the music remains in the background. “Slave Girl” by The Gems, “Blue Oasis” by Chuck “Big Guitar” Ernest with The Satellite Band, “The Moon Of Manakoora” by Lenny & The Thunder Tones, “Chant Of The Jungle” by Red Harrison & His Zodiacs, “Jungle Guitar” by The Palatons and “Cobra” by Bailey’s Nervous Cats featuring James Mills all subliminally get under your skin in a cool way.
Disc 2—“Rhum Rhapsodies”—has vocals and, as such, is the weakest of the three discs, although “Voodoo Drums” by Akim, “Magic Voodoo Man” by Fred Darian with The Bill Loose Orchestra and “Voodoo Kiss” by Don Sargent and his Buddies stand out.
Disc 3—“Mai Tai Mambos”—is the type of groove that, if you just lie back and enjoy it, letting its strange ambiance wash over you like doing LSD for the first time, you’ll find yourself in a place that has absolutely nothing to do with your real life (that’s a good thing). “Hari’s Haven” by The Slaves and “Caribbean Cruise” by The Three Bars featuring Nicky Roberts stand out.
Out of 54 songs, the obvious highlight has to be “The Voodoo Walk” by The Voodoos with the sound of someone screaming as if they’re being murdered.
Last Of The Red Hot Mamas?
Love Lives on for Dana Fuchs. Is she the last of the red hot mamas? She played Joplin in the off-Broadway production of Love, Janis. She played Sexy Sadie in the 2007 film Across The Universe. Her seven albums span solid soul, rock, pop, Americana and even subdued singer/songwriter folksiness. But here (on her own Get Along Records) she’s the ball-busting honky-tonking blues-rock chanteuse for the ages. Her 11 originals plus covers of Otis Redding (“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”) and Johnny Cash (“Ring Of Fire”) have her belting it out as if her life depended on it. She’s sounds desperate and pained yet also yearning, beseeching and totally turned-on. If Etta James and Bessie Smith adopted a baby, it would grow up to be Dana Fuchs.
Blind Spot (Dirty Cat Records) by The Lucky Losers, their third, is a winner. As oxy-moronic as their name is, San Francisco’s duet of singer/songwriters Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz have crafted a full-band album, complete with blistering performances from solid players on their brand of blues, Americana, vintage R&B and rock ’n’ roll. Berkowitz blows bigtime blues harp while lead guitarists Kid Anderson and Laura Chavez sting their axes. Rod Stewart’s violinist Annie Staninec saws away. Nancy Wright blows that sax for all she’s worth. It all amounts to a rollicking 11-track escape.
Lemons: “Phil and I have traveled some of the loneliest highways in America to bring our music to the people, and in all those travels what we see is a kind of distraction everywhere almost to the point of madness. I feel so overwhelmed by all this information pouring in from my phone, from news, from tragic headlines. Now that can be funny or it can be deadly. This album is about a separation from real experience — seeing life through a screen.” Highlights include “Alligator Baptism,” “Supernatural Blues” and “Bulldogs And Angels.” This thing grows on you with repeated listens.
He Came Out Of A Coffin
Are YOU One Of Jay’s Kids: The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 (Manifesto Records) by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins [1929-2000] is a two-CD, 44-track gem from the man who, legend has it, fathered somewhere between 57 and 75 children, thus the title. His brand of blues is totally demented. He wrote “I Put A Spell On You” but his leering insane laugh made it too odd for radio. It took John Fogerty’s CCR to make it into a hit.
This is a man who used to come out for concerts hidden in a coffin carried out by slaves who would plop the box onstage before jumping out of it with a bone stuck through his nose in full tribal mode screaming at the top of his lungs, scaring half the audience away, but he knew the other half would remember him forever.
There are no limits to his outsized sexual and scatological persona. From “Constipation Blues” and that musical question “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” to his insane cover of the Tom Waits song “Heart Attack and Vine” and “Strokin’” (you can figure out what that’s about on your own), he ran afoul of every musical rule…and that’s what makes him so riotous to listen to today. He totally pervs on “Sherilyn Fenn,” his co-star in a movie he made with her (she also starred in Twin Peaks). The lyrics of “Amy Fisher” — about the Long Island Lolita who murdered her married boyfriend — cannot be reprinted in this family newspaper.
Other highlights — all blues-based — are “You Make Me Sick,” “Shut Your Mouth When You Sneeze,” “Fourteen Wives,” “Call The Plumber,” “Swamp Gas” (don’t ask) and “I Want Your Body.”
Rockin’, soulful, crazy, hilarious, semi-pornographic and delightfully insane, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was certainly one for the rock ’n’ roll ages.