The Gems / The Mello-Harps

The Gems Meet the Melloharps

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This compilation of 11 sides by the Gems and 14 songs by the Melloharps (or Mello-Harps) (with two bonus cuts by the Leopards) is probably not authorized by anyone resembling the owners of the actual recordings, but at this late date this reviewer defies anyone to tell us precisely who that might be. The Gems represented here are not the female group signed to Chess but, rather, a much earlier all-male quintet -- also from Chicago, as it happens -- who were on Drexel Records during the mid-'50s. Their work, to judge from the evidence presented here, was first rate, and their records sounded sensational by the standards of the day -- "Kitty from New York City," for one, has a great beat, memorable hooks, a smoothly salacious undertone to its lyric, and these guys rocked in style; and their ballads weren't bad either. The Melloharps are, indeed, the legendary Brooklyn-based and Brooklyn-spawned outfit, whose work has an ethereal quality all its own -- "Love Is a Vow," featuring Vernon Staley's high tenor, is worth the price of admission by itself. The final two cuts by the Leopards, from the Beltone label, aren't bad, though they're not as distinctive as the work by either of the other two groups -- still, "Valarie" is a beautiful ballad and "Mah Mah (Chicken Pot Pie)" is a lot of fun, as well as being the distant precursor to records such as "Papa Oom Mow Mow" by the Rivingtons. There is no annotation or any recording information, but the CD sounds great and the music can (and does) speak for itself.