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Vinyl Cave: Catch and release with Reuben Phillips, Mark Slade, Primo People, Samantha Jones, Hank Williams, Jr.

Here's an extra obscure batch of wayward albums which will soon be redirected to other homes. Well, maybe except for the Hank Williams Jr. Seriously.

Reuben Phillips: Big Bad Band at the Apollo
The title essentially describes this one, though the teenagers freaking out on the front cover are a bit misleading. It's swinging big band jazz, with a few originals and arrangements of both standards ("I'll See You in My Dreams," "In a Mellowtone") and R&B/pop hits ("You Can't Sit Down," "What'd I Say"). Alto sax player Phillips led the house band at the legendary Apollo Theater during the 1950s and '60s, though anyone looking for R&B will be somewhat let down by this album. (Ascot, 1963?)

Mark Slade: Mark Slade's New Hat
Yet another oddity from Beverly Hills's short-lived and somewhat schizophrenic label, this one's a true Hollywood vanity/personality project -- Slade was an actor who briefly rose to fame on the TV show High Chaparral. The album is extremely well-recorded and sounds phenomenal, but is squeaky clean orchestrated pop; I do like the odd arrangement of Henson Cargill's "Skip A Rope," though. More problematic is the fact that Mr. Slade is an even more wooden singer than Pat Boone. Why can't I turn up the Tetragrammaton LP by Summerhill in the dollar bin? (Tetragrammaton, 1968)

Primo People: Primo People
Despite a somewhat frightening cover shot, I had some hopes for this one's bubblegum possibilities. Also, it's produced by Kelly Gordon, who was at the helm for Bobbie Gentry's first couple albums. But the Primo People are far more Osmonds than Cowsills, and not in the "Crazy Horses" sort of way -- heck, they don't rock as hard as "One Bad Apple," for that matter. Much of the album was written by Gary Primo, and the songs are ok, if somewhat chirpy due to the group vocals. It's Gordon's overproduction job that sinks this disc, making it too MOR for bubblegum while burying his usual swamp pop touches under brassy orchestration much of the time. Primo People provides more evidence for my theory to never, ever trust any album that includes "MacArthur Park." Like many non-selling Capitol albums from the era, this one is rarely seen, as the label had a habit of destroying and recycling returns rather than dumping them in the cutout bins. (Capitol, 1971)

Samantha Jones: Call it Samantha
This album's big, glossy MOR pop production aims for a Dusty Springfield/Dionne Warwick feel. Jones' relaxed vocal style sounds somewhat like Julie London on a bit of helium, though. A Liverpool singer, this appears to be Jones' only stateside album release, though quite a few more LPs followed in Europe on Larry Page's Penny Farthing label. Prior to this LP, Jones released a string of more teen-pop oriented singles on United Artists, which are worth checking out when they turn up. (Ascot, 1968)

Hank Williams Jr.: Ballads of the Hills and Plains
Hank Jr. has had a varied and long career in the music industry, first appearing on the scene as a sort of de facto teenage clone in the years after his father's passing. An early attempt by Williams to break away and find his own voice was Ballads of the Hills and Plains. Or, at least, a voice that wasn't a copy of his father's, as this album is awfully reminiscent of the style of Marty Robbins' various Gunfighter Ballads LPs. That being said, Williams is singing in his own voice. And rather than moldy public domain folk ballads, most of the songs are relatively unfamiliar (to me, at least) contemporary numbers, some of which I'd bet were written for the album since they sound awfully like more famous songs from the era. The backing is simple, adorned only by the omnipresent Jordanaires. Overall this is a very enjoyable album, despite the fact that it's one of the only discs in Hank Jr.'s long career not to hit the country charts. (MGM, 1965)

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