When but a lad of teenaged and pre-teen years, I was tripped out out by the Swingle Singers, a group never equaled nor surpassed, and, oh geez, did Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ever knock me for a loop…yep, even while being floored by the Moody Blues, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. So I always dug my ears into either bizarre singing (Comus, Alice Cooper, Capt. Beefheart), cool rock (the Hollies, Simon & Garfunkel, CSNY), even cooler jazz (Manhattan Transfer, The Nylons, Take 6) and then the all too few examples of a cappella (Flying Pickets, etc.). Of course, among them, Manhattan Transfer stood heads and shoulders above the pack, and the last time the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet appeared in these pages (here), I made mention of all this, but this time they recruited Richie Cole into their métier, and the result even more neatly sews everything up in a highly attractive and energetic package.
Cole, who guested on Transfer albums more than once, has long been famed for his bebop style and upbeat creativity, and if you think he's lost an ounce of spark since emerging in the mid-70s, think again. The guy sparkles throughout the entire CD, whether vamping, accompanying, soloing, or just kicking up his heels for the hell of it. In fact, he's the quartet's fifth voice, albeit without using vocal chords, as well as the key soloist, the rest of the band keeping the beat swingin'. The cover art to Vocal Madness features a satire on the famed Edvard Munch 'The Scream' painting, but there's nothing scary here at all, just a dozen cuts of non-stop cookin' and mellow balladry, almost every inch written by Cole and/or Quartet leader Ginny Carr, save for two numbers, one a Bricusse/Newly classic, the other the classic I Love Lucy theme song.
That one starts out laid back but soon kicks into Ricky Ricardo territory, Cole leaping into high gear in the second half of the cut, so much so that I harkened back to Earl Klugh's version of the Bewitched TV show's run-line. The two songs are quite different but carry the same over-the-top élan and integrity, drenched in a passionate love of each composition (not to mention the memories evoked by the TV shows themselves). Here, as elsewhere, there's also more than little of the Swingles in the Quartet's vocals. Then Steve Herberman tosses in a fireball guitar solo, and, well, what more could ya want from life? In the end, the base five were made for each other, and Cole even said so, exclaiming they were his "new discovery, the whole package!" Amen, amen, amen, and I sure as hell hope they remain entranced of one another, 'cause the pairing is quintessential.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2015, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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