FAME Review: Richard Lanham - Thou Swell
Richard Lanham - Thou Swell

Thou Swell

Richard Lanham


Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Richard Lanham has led a fascinating life in music. Well before he was even the tender age of 16, he'd skip Sunday school, take the quarter his mother gave him, break it down into nickels, go to the diner across the street from the school and, when customers filtered in, would play the jukebox, singing and dancing to the music. By the time he left for home, he had a pocketful of change. Very clever and resourceful lad. Ah, but it was the adults' fault, when all was said and done! After all, the family home was constantly filled with sounds coming off LPs by Miles, Count Basie, the Duke, Thelonius Monk, and others. As hip as that cat Jesus was, Lanham knew a better source of inspiration than the gospels. At 12, he recorded with the Tempo Tunes and, by the time he'd gotten to the 16 mark, Richard was singing in clubs while being accompanied by Mile's rhythm section. No lie, absolutely true. From there, he joined the Inkspots, sang with the Drifters, and added to the roster of the Cadillacs, among various other activities. How odd, then, that this CD, which he considers to be his best exposition ever, had to wait 13 years to appear and well after an illustrious career.

I've said it before, so let me say it again: I'm not all that impressed by Sinatra and never have been. Sure, he had talent but was way too conservative for my tastes. Had I a ticket to a Frankie gig and spotted a Lanham concert on the same day, I'd've sold the ticket in a New York second and beat feet over to Rich's venue, wouldn't even think twice about it. The guy is so much more expressive, carries a jazz jones down to the marrow in his bones, swings like crazy when the occasion arises, which it does often, and just generally spills over with élan and good times. Sinatra, frankly, would have sold his eyeteeth to embody the sophistication and vigor Lanham effortlessly conjures. The guy handpicked the standards in this compendium and poured his heart, soul, and elegantly funky self into every bar and measure.

Listen to him bend the notes in Stardust and then jump the ranges like a street-level opera singer, catch his Jarreau-ish recitation of I'm Beginning to See the Light, and then skip over to my favorite track, Walking my Baby Back Home. Don't know why it appeals more to me than the rest of the great takes, but something about the ferociousness of the approach just jumps out at you, then lets down into a quietly beatific reading of Unforgettable, a version to stand just behind Nat King Cole's. Then there are the myriad subtleties in the Gershwins' Isn't It a Pity for a nice long six minutes, band underscoring him perfectly. Of the entire CD, this is his most sensitive rendering.

But, really, I'm not joking. Grab a Sinatra concert CD and listen to it, then throw Thou Swell on and see if you don't buy into my proponency. Compared to cats like Richard Lanham, Frank was a Pat Boone, conservative, safe, he would've gone to Sunday school and put that quarter in the collection plate while bolder souls were living the true spirit. It's right there in the CD, ya just have to listen. In the middle of it, though, you'll have to explain to your spouse why you're seat dancing, head bopping, and smiling like the bluebird of happiness just lit on your shoulder. That'll be your gig, I'm just a critic.

Track List:

  • Thou Swell (Lorenz / Rogers)
  • Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (Greenfield / Sedaka)
  • Hallelujah I Love Her So (Ray Charles)
  • Stardust (Parish / Carmichael)
  • Calypso Medley (Burgess / Gilkyson / Soan / Norman)
  • I'm Beginning to See the Light (Hodges / George / Ellington / James)
  • Amour (Cole Porter)
  • All of You (James / Ruiz)
  • Walking My Baby Back Home (Turk / Ahlert)
  • Unforgettable (Irving Gordon)
  • Isn't It a Pity (Gershwin / Gershwin)
  • I Wish You Love (Beach / Trenet)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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