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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mighty Sparrow - Hotter Than Ever, Knock Dem Down

Name: Mighty Sparrow
Albums: Hotter Than Ever~
Knock Dem Down*
Years: 1972~
1973*
Style: Calypso, Island
Similar Bands: Harry Belafonte, Lord Melody, Lord Kitchener, Tom Jones
"One Word" Review: Non-stop shuffling-gameshow themes.
Based Out Of: Trinidad
Label: RA (Recording Artists)
~Hotter Than Ever - Cover & Record
 ~Hotter Than Ever - Back & Record
*Knock Dem Down - Cover & Record
*Knock Dem Down - Back & Record
~Hotter Than Ever (1972)
  1. Rope 3:45
  2. Toronto Mas 2:53
  3. Winer Girl 3:30
  4. Woom Poom 3:45
  5. Drunk & Disorderly 4:15 /
  6. Miss Ruby 3:54
  7. More Cock 3:43
  8. Melody 72 3:24
  9. No Love 4:03
  10. Donkey Can't Wine 3:38
*Knock Dem Down (1973)
  1. Priest 4:21
  2. Leggo Me Stick 4:22
  3. Lion & Donkey 3:04
  4. Brenda 4:29
  5. Trinidad Woman 4:58/
  6. Miss Mary 3:45
  7. Carnival Venders 4:56
  8. Funky Carnival 4:21
  9. No Future 3:34
  10. Bad Johns 4:27
Album Rating (1-10):~6.0
*5.5

Members & Other Bands:
Slinger Francisco (Mighty Sparrow) - Vocals, Composition, Musical Director, ~Arrangement
Sparrow's Calypso Troubadours - Musical Accompaniment
~A. Seaton - Vocal Accompaniment
~D. Hector - Vocal Accompaniment, Congas
~Ed Watson - Organ
~R. Bacchus - Drums
~N. Sampson - Trumpet
~M. Jarvis - Trumpet
~C.Lynch - Cowbell
~H. Jackson - Lead Guitar
~J. Bethel - Alto Sax
~H. Prince - Alto Sax
~N. Gill - Trombone
Earl Rodney - Arranger, ~Bass
Henry De Freitas - *Executive Producer, ~Assistant Engineer, Supervision
~Byron Lee - Recording Engineer
*Key Caribbean Productions - Graphics
~Asquith Clarke - Piano

Unknown-ness: I had never heard of this artist before. Furthermore, I picked up both albums on different occasions, forgetting I had the first one. I believe I purchased Knock Dem Down first, and figured it would be some fun steel drum, Caribbean music (obvious by the cover’s ‘superstar’ statement), and the second one, I thought would be some soulful R&B, maybe even a little poppy too, with the psychedelic backdrop to the dancer. So I am hoping it is somewhere between the two, but what do I know (not much, apparently).

Album Review: So apparently, The Mighty Sparrow, or Sparrow as he goes by on these albums, or Dr. Slinger Francisco (a freaking amazing stage name, in its own right), is a majorly well-known Calypso artist spanning a career beginning back in 1949 through to today, even performing in Brooklyn last Jan 2014, despite being in poor health (having been in a 2 week coma 4 months earlier). Known as the Calypso King of the World, his title accurately explains what style of music he produces. He was not popular in the US until the 70’s and while immensely popular in Trinidad, he recorded an average 2 albums a year from 1960-1979.

“Rope” sounds like game show music at the intro, and perhaps that’s just my lack of understanding calypso music in general, and having a fondness for The Price Is Right and Let’s Make A Deal. Loungey dancable strings, a funky bass, and a dense percussive sound of shuffling metal bells. The vocals are smooth, bold and confident, yet playful. My naivety and inexperience with the style only draws a couple of comparisons to the likes of “Jump in the Line,” the Chiquita banana commercials, or the spin-a-round section of the roller rink standard, the Chicken Dance.
“Toronto Mas” continues the lively flair, and features vocals that are a bit more rushed. The sax and horns are more prevalent on this song. In a live setting, I have no doubt that the continuing shuffle tempo keeps limbs moving and the crowd dancing, and is as infectious as tropical drinks.
“Winer Girl” carries the whole wood block, organ/keyboard, rhythm guitar steady skipping organic beat. Further with horns standing out again, and a rising and falling of emotion in the chorus vocals. The vocals balance out in the verse.
“Woom Poom” sounds similar to Rope, with the soaring game show style themes. The vocals have a slight echoing, distant effect employed. The vocal syllables don’t match up perfectly with the music’s tempo, in a Sinatra sort of way. The energy behind the vocals in bursts reminds me of the little I know about Tom Jones.
“Drunk & Disorderly” is a little looser of a melody, although the background percussion does not quit. The chorus is a harmonized group of vocals singing along with the lead, and supporting when they diverge in directions. It has classic lines like: “A Hungry man is an angry man, but a drunk man is a happy man.” “Every weekend I’m in jail” “Drunk and Disorderly / with Friends and Family.” Some low impact words to live by.

“Miss Ruby” is just a continuation of the party on side two. The vocals have some surprise rises and falls in pitch, but despite that, the song is presented in a nice looping, repetitive template. And the lyrics include the solid rhyming derogatory word for a woman, which is not used as much anymore “Wench.”
“More Cock” does not divert from the percussive tempo, but the horns introduce the dancing melody. The song features a chorus of call and response between the lead, and a multi-voice chorus of lines that rhyme with “More Cock.” The following melody mimics the chorus minus the lyrics. I’m not 100% sure what if the title refers to a bird or another man, because one line talks about killing the cock.
“Melody 72” has a rolling vocal melody over the familiar calypso melody and rhythm. It has the same choppy pace of “Jump in the Line,” and at times it feels like it could flow right into the song.
“No Love” is not much different, and again sounds like Love Connection is about to start. The vocals are sung slowly, with emphasis on clarity of syllable. But the sentiment of the song is about the state of argument and fighting with races and society. It is a nice story song that is interesting to follow along with and has a moral in the end: even if that message involves belief in a “lord above.”
“Donkey Can't Wine” not much else can be said here, it kinda feels like a They Might Be Giants song as the exit bridge from the chorus builds. It also sounds like the sax is played to recreate a donkey braying at times too. But the melody, like the rest of the album, always returns back to the starting note of the linear melody. There is mention in the song of a lion, but it is a different song than Lion and Donkey in the next album.

“Priest” starts the album off with a typical calypso shuffling dance melody and it builds to a harmonized chorus. This song tells a story about a girl going into town to dance and misbehave. Her daddy is playing Priest, but she ain’t no nun.  
“Leggo Me Stick” is a horn heavy song, but I’m not sure what stick this Rosy character is supposed to let go of quickly…if it is “adult” in nature, or if it is a drum or limbo stick for Carnival day. Reminds me a little of Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling. But perhaps I’m reading into it too much, and just don’t know the culture. Such is the nature of these blind reviews.
“Lion & Donkey” features a very fun melody to trace along with the vocals. The chorus is sung in a deep harmonized African tribal style, and it pits a donkey and lion to fight to find the king of the jungle. Obviously the donkey loses, but is it just a set up? I like the line that the lion rips away the donkey’s clothes to reveal a naked ass. Clever song.
“Brenda” builds up and up in pitch right at the beginning of the song. And once the vocals start, they are begging and pleading for forgiveness, ultimately asking for Brenda to not go. There is a slight sentimental tone to the vocals, but they don’t seem too sincere.  
“Trinidad Woman” starts with a gameshow style melody. I know I compare too many songs to this, but again, there is a bit of the Jump in the Line melody in this song’s chorus. This connection goes beyond the line Jump in the Water. In the instrumental breakdown, whistles are used, like it might become a Spanish disco song…even featuring some wah-wah electric guitars. It just seems out of place for the previously set template for songs.

“Miss Mary” is more tribal than Caribbean in the intro drums and percussive cowbell. But then the horns come in, and the song takes off. The song mentions a Miss Mary, big and hairy, which does not seem to be complementary. The composition allows for the different melody making instruments showcase themselves for a few bars before taking a back seat to the next set.
“Carnival Venders” follows the same pattern of a complete circle for the melody. The song starts out rising and falling, and coming back to the starting note, like a perfect rhyme. The instrumental section is a call and response battle between woodwinds and horns. Apparently vendors at carnival in Trinidad sold different forms of weed, per the song’s lyrics.
“Funky Carnival” is a little funkier, as the title states. The tempo is slowed down a little, and the vocals feature some interesting mutterings and sounds. In the background it sounds as if there is a large swooping metal bird, which comes off as a little odd. Also, the lyrics call for old men grabbing young girls at the festival.
“No Future” is a slow loungey song. It lays out the problems and reasons the person whom the song is focusing on might not have a future. It is a light and airy cautionary tale.
“Bad Johns” ends the album with a bit more upbeat melody. This features a guitar heavily in the instrumental section; not usual compared to the rest of the album. The emotion in the vocals is stronger and bolder than the other songs on this side. 

Stand Out Track: ~Rope
*Lion & Donkey

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