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Vinyl Cave: Dollar bin diving with Al Hirt, Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, Kimio Eto, The Match, The Dreamlovers, The Fifth Dimension

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After a few months of being slightly better behaved and mostly picking up the usual suspects (rock, jazz, etc.), these past couple weeks have seen a couple stacks of weird bargain bin curiosity purchases. Here's a random sampling of discs that hit the turntable one day this week.

Al Hirt: The Horn Meets "The Hornet"
Judging by his presence to this day in used record bins, Al Hirt recorded approximately 10 million albums. But I've never really messed with them much before besides always looking at the Audio Fidelity ones and remembering there's some version of those that is supposedly collectible. Yeah, whatever. This particular album was one I had not seen before and features "The Horn" running through a bunch of television themes both familar ("(Theme from) The Monkees," "Batman") to obscure ("(Theme from) Run Buddy Run," "T.H.E. Cat"). And, of course, Billy May's somewhat crazed "Green Hornet Theme." These are about as rock-oriented as big band arrangements get, with a heavy drum sound, and it sounds like everyone was having fun blasting through what most of the studio cats probably considered piffle. Hearing Hirt attempt to melt down on "The Monkees" and then have to contain himself to the song's structure is pretty entertaining. (RCA Victor LSP-3716, 1966)

Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa: Suzanna: Folk Songs
What can I say, I liked the cover ... including an awesome studio shot of the white-cassocked sisters in the recording studio on the back. This is exactly what it appears to be, though perhaps a bit more authentic than I might have expected. The liner notes state the songs were collected over several decades by the "White Sisters," as the missionaries were commonly known. The sisters not only sing in the original African languages, they also drum and provide other rhythm accompaniment to their collected chants.

Suzanna was surprisingly (if simply) well-recorded for stereo at Gotham Studios in New York. "This Record-Album constitutes a rare musical event and will prove to be a real Collector's item," trumpets the liner notes, and I will say it's not something I've encountered before, at least. The group apparently performed on Ed Sullivan at some point, which probably spurred the album release, noted as new in an early 1965 issue of Billboard. (Aardvark AALP 1347, 1965)

Kimio Eto: Sound of the Koto
Another trip to other lands via vintage vinyl, this came from the same stack of folk-oriented purchases as the White Sisters LP. The koto is a 13-stringed instrument most often associated with staid, calm classical and traditional Japanese music. Eto's Sound of the Koto does include a couple classical pieces, but they've been reworked into his more modern, Western-influenced style of playing -- which is definitely not staid. If there was ever a Speedy West of koto players, I have a feeling it may have been Kimio Eto. A number of the tracks here are duets, with Eto playing both parts via the magic of overdubbing, and on some of these the kotos occasionally combine into a sound almost like a harpsichord. In addition to this LP, Eto made several others for World Pacific (including one with flutist Bud Shank) and at least one for Elektra. I will definitely explore further if encountering another one .(World Pacific WP-1439, 1966).

The Match: A New Light
I've seen The Match's lone album a number of times over the years but had never taken the plunge. RCA signed a lot of interesting, noisy rock bands in the late '60s but also a lot of extremely MOR pop acts, and often it's hard to tell which is which by how the label packaged them. That being said, The Match just looks like it's gonna be squishy, between the goofy captions on the band's pics on the back ("Marshall sensitive, concerned, the patient counselor, high tenor") and the liner notes by Henry Mancini.

Sometimes first impressions are correct. It's like if The Association didn't write songs and made all their covers try to sound like "Windy," or perhaps if The Four Freshmen dumbed down their complex vocal arrangements and aimed groovy for the late '60s. Essentially, The Match are fine singers but not served particularly well by the occasional attempts at hipness in the arrangements. With their lighter than air harmonies they would have been better off playing it straight marshmallow all the way. The best moment is a mostly a cappella take on "Alfie," while the lead-off track "Don't Take Your Time," written by Roger Nichols and Tony Asher, is okay sunshine pop. (RCA Victor LSP-4206, 1969)

The Dreamlovers: The Bird and Other Golden Dancing Grooves
In the early to mid-1960s, Columbia was casting about randomly/desperately for any signings who might appeal to the teen set, and longtime Philadelphia doo wop group The Dreamlovers got a shot. They released a handful singles and this quickie covers LP, which includes only one of the singles sides and a whole bunch of dance crazes. Producer Al Kasha kept things fairly uncluttered, with the proto-soul arrangements giving the singers plenty of room. It makes for an entertaining if inessential document of what doo-woppers were up to after the pure forms of the genre faded from the charts.

This copy (and most I've seen over the years) is part of the "Columbia Special Archives Series," a product line that when encountered usually seems to be mostly early-'60s albums that didn't sell the first time around, chosen at random. I've never seen a definitive answer as to what the deal with these records are; the most logical assumption is that they were given away with stereo purchases, or blown out in department stores. I've always guessed most of these records were re-jiggered back stock of some sort, but this particular record calls that assumption into question: The disc itself uses Columbia-created stampers but was actually pressed at the Mercury plant, which can be deciphered from the dead wax and by the late-'60s Mercury Rice Krispies vinyl quality. Weird. (Columbia CSPR 8820, late '60s?)

The Fifth Dimension: Star Dancing
I always thought The Fifth Dimension disbanded at least temporarily after the departure of Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo. Turns out, I was way wrong. The vocal group, led by original member Florence LaRue, has remained active right up to the present day. It also turns out they were briefly absorbed by Motown Records, and the disco wave.

Star Dancing is the second album they recorded for Berry Gordy in L.A., and it's got that generic L.A. Motown sound to it. Being created by five different production teams (on a nine-track disc) probably didn't help. Unfortunately, since this is a Motown album, the performers are not listed but along with LaRue, while Lamonte McLemore is still pictured on the cover. Wikipedia also lists '60s soul singer Lou Courtney as part of the lineup around this time. The P-Funk lite of the super silly title track is probably the best thing on here. (Motown M7-896R1, 1978)

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