The Sandpipers

Guantanamera

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Judging by the popularity of the Sandpipers' debut long-player, Guantanamera (1966), the mid-'60s were primed for an easier contrast to the increasingly raucous strains of rock & roll. The idea of overhauling modern material -- from a variety of sources and genres -- into soft and affective ballads and in English and Spanish was (and remains) a novel concept. Behind the scenes, staff producer Tommy LiPuma and musical arrangers Nick DeCaro and Mort Garson were molding vocalists Jim Brady, Mike Piano, and Richard Shoff -- and the often uncredited Pamela Ramcier. They wanted to create a product structurally similar to what Herb Alpert -- co-owner of the Sandpipers' A&M Records label -- had done with his Tijuana Brass. The plan worked as the LP went all the way to a very respectable number 13 on the Pop Album chart. The title track -- from Pete Seeger's adaptation of a poem by Cuban writer Jose Marti -- fared even better, landing in the Top Ten Singles survey. It was followed into the countdown by a rich and dreamy Latin-flavored reading of the "garage" classic "Louie Louie" -- in Spanish, no less. That bilingual performance style permeates several melodies that would have been familiar to the intended audience. Among them are "Strangers in the Night" -- which is also given a hauntingly beautiful and contemporary introduction -- as well as the traditional Mexican folk tune "La Bamba." The Sandpipers even take on the British Invasion with a mellow and otherwise outstanding arrangement of the Beatles' "Things We Said Today." Equally worthy of repeated spins is the light optimism in the update of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and the closer, "Angelica." The former evokes the sanguine quirkiness of the mid-'60s Harpers Bizarre quintet, while the latter embodies the opposite end of the emotive spectrum as the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil selection is a noir ballad that offers darker sonic shading than the more popular versions by Scott Walker, Gene Pitney, or the Sandpipers' easy listening rival Percy Faith. In 2000, Collectors' Choice Music paired Guantanamera with the combo's eponymous The Sandpipers (1967) onto a single CD -- making both available for the first time in decades.

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