The Sandpipers

Guantanamera/The Sandpipers

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There is an undeniable charm in the whimsy and subdued kitsch of these affably mellow melodies. This two-fer from Collectors' Choice Music gathers the Sandpipers' 1966 release Guantanamera, as well as their self-titled follow-up from 1967. These were the highest charting long-players that the trio -- consisting of vocalists Jim Brady, Mike Piano, and Richard Shoff -- issued, reaching number 13 and number 53 respectively on the pop album charts. In addition to including the title track from their LP -- the South American folk standard "Guantanamera" -- this disc also highlights some remarkably fresh sounding pop/rock covers, as well as other traditional folk songs from around the globe. While Guantanamera is their debut album, the members of the Sandpipers had previously worked together for several years. Initially, the three met as members of the Mitchell Boys' Choir before seceding to perform as the Four Seasons, and later the Grads. Enter the "A" of A&M records -- Herb Alpert -- who first signed them to his label, and, second, placed their talents into the careful supervision of staff producer Tommy LiPuma and musical arrangers Nick DeCaro and Mort Garson. Indeed, the inobtrusive sound that the team came up with was strikingly similar in approach to that of Alpert's own Tijuana Brass and their percussive cousins, the Julius Wechter-led Baja Marimba Band. The trio's blithe vocals -- which are often enhanced by an uncredited female lead -- are ideally suited to the equally carefree and often lush instrumentals, producing some interesting and quite unexpected results. On one end of the spectrum are the somewhat conventional interpretations of pop music standards "Strangers in the Night," "It's Over," and "Try to Remember." A harpsichord-laced and Latin-tinged "Carmen," as well as the languid rhythms featured on the arrangements of garage rock staples "Louie Louie" and "La Bamba," are innocuous nods to the psychedelic music scene -- replete with a slight echoplex and wide stereo production -- that not only send the senses reeling, but have also remained surprisingly fresh and even modern. A related highlight includes the ethereal "Things We Said Today," which reveals the beauty of the composition in a unique light. From the decelerated tempo to the emphasis placed on chord and key changes, this arrangement bristles with innovation. Likewise, it ranks among the finest -- and equally as original -- cover versions of any Beatles track. Unfortunately, their spins on "Yesterday" and "Michelle" fall short in comparison. Although the CD occasionally reveals surface noise from the vinyl transcription during quieter passages, those incidences are few and never detract from the listening experience.

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