Babs Gonzales

Tales of Manhattan: The Cool Philosophy of Babs Gonzales

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When this fairly obscure album was made in the late '50s, beatnik culture was just starting to penetrate the consciousness of mainstream America via such unlikely vehicles as the Maynard G. Krebs character in the TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Compared to Krebs' caricatured verse, the hipster-speak tales Babs Gonzales spun to light cool jazz backing on Tales of Manhattan: The Cool Philosophy of Babs Gonzales were gritty and streetwise. Heard these days, when we know just how on-the-edge some New York beats were, it sounds a little innocuous and contrived. Taken as a timepiece, however, Gonzales' deftly rhythmic, lilting spoken poems-fables have their dated charms. Even if they steer well clear of slice-of-life insight, the good-natured semi-sermonizing on making connections (the non-drug-related kind), talking up chicks, hanging out on Broadway in the wee hours, and stretching out your dollars to sustain your semi-bohemian lifestyle do capture something of the sunnier side of the 1950s New York hipster world. One CD reissue pairs the album with an unrelated Googie Rene album from the same era, Romesville, whose commercial mix of jazz, Latin music, and cinematic soundtrack music makes for a good if slightly incongruous companion piece.

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