Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gary U.S. Bonds - The Classic Albums (1961,1962)

After moving to the Norfolk, VA, area in the mid-'50s, young Gary Anderson began plying his vocal wares, first in church, later with a local group called the Turks. When he was not yet 21, he was approached by local record producer Frank Guida to join his tiny Legrand label. Guida changed Anderson's name to U.S. Bonds, hoping the first release would get extra airplay by disc jockeys mistaking it for a public-service announcement. The result was the classic "New Orleans," combining rock-combo raunch with impassioned, scorched soul-singing that set the stage for all that would follow. Guida double- and triple-tracked Bonds' voice and the resulting murky production gave all the hits (including "Quarter to Three," "School Is Out," and "Dear Lady Twist") a party-in-outer-space quality all their own. Though he kept recording, making a couple of excellent solo albums in the early '80s with the help of Bruce Springsteen, Bonds is best seen today dotting the landscape of oldies shows the world over, singing the songs that made him famous.
Bonds' debut album was a typical LP for the era: a few hits ("Quarter to Three," "New Orleans," "School Is Out") surrounded by tunes not far removed from the style of the singles, but not nearly as memorable. At least this one was mostly comprised of original material, written by producer Frank Guida, Bonds, and saxophonist Gene Barge, with a few others pitching in. The calypso and Caribbean beats that found their way into several Bonds singles crop up with some frequency; "Please Forgive Me," "Don't Go to Strangers," and "I Know Why Dreamers Cry" are doo wop/R&B ballads in a more traditional vein than Bonds' usual approach; and "Not Me" would be covered for a hit by the Orlons in 1963. The album was reissued, together with Bonds' second LP (1962's Twist Up Calypso), on a single-CD compilation by Ace in 1998, although this CD substitutes the original version of "Please Forgive Me" (the B-side of "New Orleans") for the one that was re-recorded for the LP.

The success of "Dear Lady Twist" (included here) inspired an entire album of songs derived from calypso music. Bonds and producer Frank Guida, it must be said, didn't do it halfway: almost everything here employs prominent calypso beats, and in addition to covers of the calypso tunes "Day-O" and "Mama Look a Booboo," several of the originals are obviously based on calypso riffs (such as "A Woman Is Smarter"). Bonds pulls off his task with genuine exuberance -- the arrangements are considerably hotter and more indebted to the "party" sounds of his hits than the filler on his first LP -- though as usual it's the hits, "Twist, Twist Senora!" and the fabulous "Dear Lady Twist," that stand out. The album was reissued, together with Bonds' first LP (1961's Dance 'Til Quarter to Three), on a single-CD compilation by Ace in 1998.

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