Various Artists - Mid-Century Sounds, Deep Cuts From The Desert

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:7 Release Date:2017-07-07

The two disc compilation Mid-Century Sounds: Deep Cuts from the Desert centers on the man behind this thirty-odd song collection, a gentleman named Floyd Ramsey. Ramsey was a visionary who created a handful of labels, ran the “legendary” Audio Records of Arizona (following in the footsteps of his father, Clay), and helped launch the birth of surf music as well as the early careers of Waylon Jennings, Duane Eddy, Donna Fargo, Wayne Newton, Sanford Clark, Lee Hazelwood, and eventual Wrecking Crew guitarist Al Casey. If you’ve never heard of him, don’t feel bad. This collection aims to reconcile that right quick.

Focusing on country and western, honky-tonk, rockabilly swing, early rock and roll and even some funk-jazz, as well as some stuff I don’t even know how to categorize, this is one helluva collection of songs. If Ramsey is a mystery to you, so too will be the majority of the artists (and their songs) herein. Listening to these songs felt like discovering a treasure box of long-hidden secrets, which, I’ll admit, is half the fun of giving this a few spins. With the exception of Waylon Jennings and Sanford Clark, I’d not heard of any of these performers, either. Matter-of-fact, try to Google them and you’re likely to run into the same dearth of information.

Arranged chronologically, the first out of the gate is a song from 1957, “Never With Your Heart” from Ralph Smith with Bob Taylor’s Western Aces. Perhaps not coincidentally, it bears a very striking resemblance to another of that era that also has the word “heart” in it, sung by Mr. Hank Williams. Glen Morris sings “I Got The Blues,” which is not the Jagger-Richards tune from Sticky Fingers, but rather a bit of honky-tonk doo-wop. The Tads, noted for being “the most prolific Phoenix black vocal group,” add “She Is My Dream” and Gary Trexler tries for his best Ricky Nelson impersonation with the song “A Better Man Than Me.” You may have noticed this collection contains the work of acts whose names you may not recognize, but whose influences you most certainly will. It’s a recurring theme throughout.

Things definitely come at you from a lot of directions. “I’m Glad I Knew You,” from the unfortunately named P-Nut Butter, is straight out of the mid-60s AM pop radio mold, while “What’s Happening” from Phil & the Frantics, with vocals that sound like Cheech Marin in his Alice Bowie phase, provides a rollicking railroad rhythm complete with harmonica. And, as mentioned, Waylon Jennings contributes a mariachi-tinged country strummer called “My World.”

What I enjoy is the nice dollop of instrumentals herein. The Gigolo’s get groovy with the surf twang beaut “Night Creature,” a tune that seems custom-made for a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Ritchie Hart & his Hartbeats sax things up with “Do It Twist,” a song you’d expect to hear in any of a dozen or more TV shows from the era wherein the square cops head into the cool club searching for clues, only to find all the kids are blissfully swinging, man. The Al Casey Combo closes out things on disc one with the organ and horn delight “Cookin’.” You have to love the mic picking up these guys totally immersed in the groove, laughing and shouting, “Yeah! Right on!” If you’re any kind of retro fan, this will have you in heaven.

Things take a turn for the funky late in the proceedings. First off, The Harvey Truitt & Jack Miller Project shine up their platform heels for the brassy “Get Up.” Then, Soul Blenders take a cue from both James Brown and Sly Stone with “Blending Soul.” Lastly, Michael Liggins and the Super Souls serve up the bizarre fusion number “Loaded Back,” which sounds like what you’d get if Ron Burgundy, Bootsy Collins, Ginger Baker, and Frank Zappa took mushrooms and recorded a loose jam. Wrap your mind around that, if you can.

Spanning roughly two decades of music from 1957 to 1973, and featuring a nice variety of genres, this neat little compilation is bound to not only give you something to dig on, but to enlighten you as well, which is exactly what a compilation of this sort is supposed to provide. Enjoy!

 

 

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