The Coasters

One by One

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The Coasters were best known for delivering the teenage dramas penned by their producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with uncommon wit and panache. Although they were African-American and grown men, they made their reputation with white, teenage rock & roll fans. The mythos of rock musicians coming up the hard way, with little or no formal training and knowledge, was already an implicit selling point in the '50s, despite the fact that many early stars had already struggled for years in other musical fields. Contrary to that, there was also a move afoot to portray rockers as "real musicians" who could appeal to the older adult crowd, that is, the parents of rock & rollers. Whatever the impetus, One by One certainly shows a different side of the group -- giving each member the opportunity to sing lead. Two of the original members had already been replaced by the time this album was cut, but all four men show their incredible range and musical knowledge. The charts by Stan Applebaum combine hints of the group's rock formula with smooth, jazzy pop arrangements that bring out the best in each Coaster as they take their solo shots. Bass singer Will Jones croons "But Beautiful" to the backing of celesta, vibes, and swooning strings, and "The Way You Look Tonight" eschews any doo wop doodads to get a mellow, late-night reading. Lead singer Carl Gardner delivers Ellington's "Satin Doll" backed by a swinging piano-dominated combo. "Moonlight in Vermont" features glockenspiel and strings, and an unusually understated vocal, and on "Willow Weep for Me," he turns in an emotional performance that Coaster fans used to his arch humor must have found puzzling. Billy Guy embroiders the melody of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" by swooping up and down the scale, elongating his vowels and breaking words into staccato syllables. The arrangement of "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" is pure pop, but Guy sings it with an anguished bluesy feeling. Cornell Gunter's high tenor recalls the style of the Platters' Tony Williams, especially on his phrasing of "Autumn Leaves." "On the Sunny Side of the Street" is jazzier, with a xylophone and piano rhythm section supplying the backup. The only downside to the album is the primitive stereo separation that puts the singer on the right side of the room and most of the band on the left.

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