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Vinyl Cave: Catch and release with Marion Williams, Jimmie Driftwood, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Walt Brown & Bill Collins, Roger Miller

Rummage sale season is nearly over, unfortunately. Here's a sampling of items I picked up due to curiosity -- and bargain prices -- on Friday morning.

Marion Williams:Gospel Now
Marion Williams may not be a household name to the populace at large, but in the gospel field she's remembered as a legend. Williams rose to fame in the late 1940s as a member of the Clara Ward Singers. In the late '50s she left to form a new group, Stars of Faith, and went solo by the mid-'60s. By the late '60s/early '70s, she was signed to powerhouse independent (and soon to be corporate minion) Atlantic Records, and recorded a string of LPs for the label. Gospel Now is from that era, though, for some reason this one is on Cotillion rather than Atlantic. It's easy to assume from the title that this album was an attempt to market Williams in a more soul/pop direction akin to what the Staple Singers were recording at the time. Williams' disc doesn't go anywhere near as far toward straight-up soul as the Staples, but could be considered somewhat of a forerunner to the more popular-music influenced sound of modern gospel. I don't think the backing would matter -- the star here is Williams' amazing singing style. (Cotillion, 1971)

Jimmie Driftwood: Driftwood at Sea: Sea Shanties
A disc of oceangoing songs is perhaps not the first thing one would expect from a landlocked Ozarks performer. However, this is the prolific songwriter/collector Jimmie Driftwood, which makes a bit more sense. Driftwood didn't initially record until he was already about 50 years old, and became an overnight sensation as a songwriter shortly after when Johnny Horton's monster hit cover of "The Battle of New Orleans" won him a Grammy as Song of the Year in 1960. However, Driftwood didn't really make too many more albums of his own after that -- this one was his last for RCA. His singing and playing is straight-up folk, and his song selection is spot-on; the extra instrumentation and singers added by Chet Atkins ranges from extraneous to irritating. (RCA Victor, 1962)

Lena Horne: Lena on the Blue Side
Without looking too closely at the credits, I was intrigued by the possibility of this album being bit of a departure from Lena Horne's nightclub-era wheelhouse of pop/jazz standards and Broadway numbers. Well, that's not so much the case -- "ORCHESTRA conducted by MARTY GOLD" -- but the strings aren't overdone, and Horne is in fine voice throughout. As a listener who has seen many of her albums over the years but hasn't heard a lot of Horne's recordings, it's a good introduction to a groundbreaking performer. (RCA Victor, 1962)

Frank Sinatra: Cycles
Speaking of legendary singers, how about some Frank? Cycles is one I've sorta been avoiding despite the killer cover shot, but it was a quarter. Well, I'm not getting that quarter back -- partly because the album turned out to be pretty badly scratched and partly because the material here isn't up to the usual Great American Songbook caliber most often handled with verve by Sinatra. Recorded at the start of a series of albums with conductor/arranger Don Costa, it finds Sinatra in the mode of his efforts at tackling contemporary '60s sounds. Despite pictures on the back cover with Tiny Tim and George Harrison, this is not to say Sinatra was going psych rock or anything, he's just covering then-current hits such as "Little Green Apples," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Both Sides Now," and so on. Sinatra sings with a lot of restraint to match the mostly sleepy arrangements, which gives him a chance to play around with the phrasing in his inimitable manner. It wouldn't ever be my first or, even 20th or 30th, choice when picking a Sinatra album to play, but there's no moments quite as unhinged as some of his other '60s rock covers, either ("Mrs. Robinson," I'm looking at you). I do like the Teddy Randazzo-Victoria Pike song "Rain in My Heart," which was also a single. (Reprise, 1968)

The Walt Brown Show with Bill Collins: One Wild Live Night at the Ice House
A late period folk boom LP from 1964 or early 1965. In fact, the approximate date of release is about all I could find out about this album; digging around online, all that turned up was a reference to the recording session in a September 1964 issue of Billboard and some current sales listings. The album was recorded at the famous folk-turned-comedy venue, the Ice House in Pasadena, California, and is a rare production credit for longtime Warner Brothers renaissance man Stan Cornyn. Brown and Collins don't shy away from humor in their music, best exemplified by the original parody "The Modern Folk Song." Otherwise, it's straight up folk, with a very engaged audience. (Warner Brothers, 1964?).

Roger Miller: Tunes that Launched the Roger Miller Career
A budget line compilation of pre-crossover sides by the country-pop singer-songwriter. All three of his RCA-era country hits are here: "You Don't Want My Love," "When Two Worlds Collide" and "Lock, Stock and Teardrops." RCA pretty much just gave up on Miller very slightly too soon, as the latest songs here date from 1963. The style that propelled him to monster pop success in 1964 is already intact, albeit with some unnecessary countrypolitan sweetening added. (Camden, 1964)

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