Various Artists

Calypso Awakening

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Calypso Awakening Review

by Richie Unterberger

These 21 live and studio tracks were recorded in Trinidad and released on Emory Cook's Cook label between 1956 and 1962. In comparison with some other calypso recordings from the mid-20th century (including a few on Smithsonian Folkways, which issued this collection), this has an advantage in that it's a compilation, not a single-artist anthology, guaranteeing some diversity, particularly in the arrangements. As it happens, calypso notables Lord Melody and Mighty Sparrow are responsible for about half the selections, even singing together on "Picong Duel." However, you also get sides by Wrangler, King Fighter, Commander, Small Island Pride, the John Buddy Williams Band, and an unidentified steel band. The backing is occasionally minimal -- just an acoustic guitar, bass, and maracas for Small Island Pride's "Taxi Driver," for instance, and an audio verite recording of a pan being tuned. It's the small band sides by the likes of Lord Melody and Mighty Sparrow, though, that have the most danceable charm, with their light jazz overlays. Lord Melody's "Turn Back, Melody" even bears a distant relation to early ska music, with its rudimentary electric guitar, honking sax, and insistent beat, while the sparring between him and Mighty Sparrow on their duet of course is in the verbal tradition that has led to rap music. All told, this disc could still use some more variety, but it's unceasingly playful, good-natured stuff, sometimes cloaking some critical lyrics about crime, income tax, colonialism, and inflation.

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