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Thursday, December 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Vinyl Cave: Catch and release with Harry Belafonte and Nana Mouskouri, Glen Campbell, Ellie Greenwich, The Illlusion, and Ruth Copeland

Here's another batch of albums that looked interesting for one reason or another, but didn't quite catch my fancy enough to actually let them be filed into the stacks of wax that make up the vinyl cave. It will be obvious why I picked some of them up in the first place... but maybe not so obvious for others.

Harry Belafonte and Nana Mouskouri: An Evening With Belafonte/Mouskouri (RCA Victor, 1966)
I'm a pretty big fan of Belafonte, and have gradually caught up on his various vintage journeys through the world's folk and pop music... but this one's sorta heavy going even for me. The back cover states "Two Great Artists in a Program of Songs from Greece." Yup, that's exactly what's going on, in this case mostly newer songs written by Manos Hadjidakis. It's all Greek to me since they're singing in the language. Interestingly, there's only two duets listed here among the 10 tracks, though it sounds like Harry joining in on harmony on another. Also of note for those who've seen numerous Mouskouri albums in the bins over the years is that she's missing her signature black-rimmed glasses on the album's cover. If nothing else now I have a sense of what Mouskouri sounds like to go along with recognizing the glasses.

Glen Campbell: Country Shindig (Surrey, 1966)
Billed on the front cover as "featuring twelve string guitar with harpsicord," that's indeed exactly what you get. However, it's far weighted to the harpsicord, and in many cases if there's a guitar on the more keyboard-y numbers, it's buried in the mix quite severely. Many of the albums on the Surrey label are re-package jobs of earlier flop discs from one of Vee Jay's various subsidiary/budget labels during the era the company was led by Randy Wood. Thanks to the excellent Both Sides Now album discography, I tracked down that this first appeared as The Swinging 12 String Guitar by The In Group featuring Glen Campbell, on the short-lived In label. Also of note for completists: Apparently the harpsicord is played by then-studio cat Leon Russell.

Ellie Greenwich: Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung (Verve, 1973)
The second solo album by the legendary Brill Building songwriter finds Greenwich recreating 1960s successes -- which were hits for others -- in a 1970s setting. Greenwich is in good voice as always, but the re-arrangements here tend to lean heavily toward Carpenters territory in the best cases -- and in less successful directions elsewhere (a music hall-y "Be My Baby;" a percussion-fest on "Chapel of Love"). It's not completely atrocious, but nothing here comes close to supplanting the original hit version of these songs, either. It was produced by Greenwich with Steve Tudanger and Steve Feldman, her then-partners in a jingle writing business.

The Illusion: The Illusion (Steed, 1970)
This record looks like it could be good psych, but that's only an illusion (sorry, couldn't resist). I guess it's an attempt by Jeff Barry's Steed label, better known for popsters like Andy Kim, at a hard rock band. However, The Illusion does not rock any harder than Andy Kim, unless you're into "heavy" moves like an extended drum solo. Along with that, the group incorporates pieces of Sly and the Family Stone and Dr. John into the album version of "Did You See Her Eyes," a Top 40 hit the second time it was released as a single in 1969. Though overall it's not a keeper the album is not a total disaster; the band sounds like they are fine players, and there's a couple ok blue-eyed soulish rockers, with over the top lead vocals and some psychy guitar work. But for East Coast cheez, I'll stick with Vanilla Fudge.

Ruth Copeland: Self Portrait (Invictus, 1970)
Ahh, the early 1970s. Everyone wanted to be a soul singer, it seems, even British folksters. Ruth Copeland had a big enough voice to pull it off. Even more impressively, on her debut album she collaborates with members of Parliament/Funkadelic; she'd also co-produced the first Parliament album during 1970. Self Portrait, however, falls victim to an over-reaching eclecticism that keeps the album from building any sort of cohesive flow. The psych-funk workouts are pretty groovy, but provide jarring context for introspective, airy folk numbers or big orchestral productions like the album's closer, "Un Bel Di" from Madame Butterfly.

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