Band of Oz

Let It Roll

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There's some stuff that's great, and a whole lot that's really good about this CD. But before going further, it should be explained that bands that specialize in what is known as "beach music" -- a mostly East Coast, southern phenomenon -- walk a fine line, similar to the one trod by the best garage bands of the mid-'60s (which a lot of these beach music groups could almost have qualified as, back in the day); they're doing mostly traditional R&B and rock & roll covers with a special emphasis on dance numbers, aiming at an audience that is mostly interested in the latter, and the goal is to be faithful to the originals while putting just enough of themselves into the repertory -- which can include originals -- so that they're more than just live jukeboxes. This album fulfills that ideal and more; and what's more, it moves from strength-to-strength doing it. The first two numbers on Let It Roll are solid enough, smooth and soothing white soul (that barely sounds white at all) that they were impressive in their sheer subtlety. If the "beach music" phenomenon and label are elusive, and one must think of them as an "oldies" act, then the Band of Oz are closer to the classiest and best of them -- say, Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids at their peak -- than they are to, say, Sha Na Na, or any still lesser acts. And then track number three comes up, a moment that is so beautifully executed, on a piece of music that has been begging for this kind of treatment on record for so long (like, decades) that this reviewer just let out a shout to no one in particular (except maybe the firmament for allowing this little moment into the stream of reality) -- and it all happens on "Shama Lama Ding Dong." Not "Rama Lama Ding Dong," the 1950s doo wop standard, but "Shama Lama Ding Dong," the number done by Otis Day & the Knights in National Lampoon's Animal House -- the number that sent people back in the late '70s in search of Otis Day & the Knights (who didn't really exist, but soon manifested themselves in the person of DeWayne Jesse, who played "Otis Day" in the movie and has taken on the "role," fronting a band, right into the 21st century). Except that unlike Jesse/Otis Day, Band of Oz has gotten "Shama Lama Ding Dong" exactly right on their recording, with perfect harmonies and an arrangement that's faithful to the original (no electric drums or modern funk elements here -- David Hicks is playing the real skins); the recording was fine enough to wash over this reviewer like a wish fulfilled from decades ago (along with the thought that finally we can shelve those CDs of the Animal House soundtrack). And from there the joys and delights just pour out -- "Keep on Sittin' on It All the Time" with Keith Houston's two bluesy guitar breaks, Big John Thompson, sounding like he should've been singing with the Drifters' Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore, his voice wrapping itself around "Some Kind of Wonderful"; the choruses and the up close and personal rhythm guitar on "Easy Comin' Out"; and the horn-and-piano driven "Is a Bluebird Blue." And then what might be the most horn-heavy rendition of "Baby What You Want Me to Do" that's been heard since the 1950s, and that works, too. The "Love Song Medley" that follows is enjoyable if a little less adventurous, comprised as it is of familiar fare such as "In the Still of the Night" and a brace of late-'50s doo wop standards, but they acquit themselves well, regardless. And then comes a horn-and-harmony driven rendition of "Johnny B. Goode" that still has room for a good guitar workout. And when you get to "First Impressions" we're back in '60s soul territory -- and they close out the record with a live rendition of "Ocean Boulevard" that's like icing on the cake. Some songs here may be more transcendent than others, but there's not a weak moment anywhere on this CD; and it even succeeds in being the ultimate band souvenir -- it makes you want to hear what these guys sound like live, though born out by the concert version of "Ocean Boulevard," the essentials are all here, in a sharp relief. Even the CD's name is perfect: Let It Roll, like one long set of good times you never want to end.

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