Jul 7, 2013

Bertice Sells It Softly, Vikki's First Time, Dusky's Finest, Plus The King Goes Creole And A Blurry Secret Song!


Behold Bertice! There's only one. If you've seen the movie version of "Little Shop Of Horrors," then you know her as the singing homeless woman in the number "Downtown." But it was my Cuban Luvuh who knew that she had done much more than "Little Shop," which was actually her last professional appearance.

Like many black performers, she started singing at her church in the 1940's in her native Pennsylvania. That led to talent shows, a gig with The Count Basie Orchestra, a contract with RCA records, a Tony-nominated debut performance on Broadway, and then, for much of her professional life, stage and cabaret performances in London. She died from a sudden stroke at age 57 in 1991.

Her self-titled 1983 LP - a Cheerful Exclusive! - is a lovely collection of ballads. She gets under the skin of "I Wish You Love" and "Lover Man," for instance, with a lot more subtlety than most performers. And so you can understand why they loved her in the UK. She never oversells a lyric, but instead leads you unobtrusively from one soul-stirring moment to the next. Yet it would be simplistic to say that she just "acts" the songs; when she sings "The Right To Be Wrong," for example, it's too harrowing an experience to be labeled as mere performance.


Let's move on now, from soft...to thunderous! Yes, it's the Little Latina Powerhouse known as Miss Vikki Carr. Hold tight.


Her 1964 LP "Discovery" - a Loud Latina Cheerful Exclusive! - was her first, and it must have seemed like a whopping shot of adrenaline to its listeners at the time. But then she'd already been wowing them on the club and cabaret circuit in Chicago when this LP was recorded (some of the more understated reviewers noted, "I can't think of a more exciting night in cabaret within the last twenty years!" and "What a big voice for one so petite!").

She's definitely a knock-you-flat-type performer, though she builds carefully to her peaks (unlike, say, Shirley Bassey, who starts at the highest peak possible) (then shoots higher), and some of the tracks here are classics of early-60's power-vocal delivery, especially "Bluesette" and "Never Will I Marry." Unsurprisingly, her next LP was called "Color Her Great!" Immodest, yes. Accurate? Claro esta!


From soft to thunderous to chill, baby, chill. Pay no mind that the musicians below are giving you a Nerds-Wrapped-In-Glowsticks vibe. Dusky are much more than that.


In their debut 2011 CD, they easily wow with their trance-out electronica, but they're also noteworthy given their ability to draw from such a wide variety of musical genres - orchestral, classical piano, soul. And they do it seamlessly. If you've grown weary of same-sounding electronica efforts, trust me, this just might surprise you.


Were you alive in 1957? I wasn't (no, really), but that was the year Elvis spent Christmas at his newly purchased Graceland estate - and then received his draft notice. Elvis the Pelvis was off to war!


I do like Elvis, but only in small doses (heresy, I know). However, I can happily listen to the King Creole soundtrack any time, any where. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the cheese factor is bit higher, or that it really does seem to exemplify the giggly innocence of another era entirely with songs such as "Lover Doll" and the title track, with priceless lyrics like, "He sings a song about a crawdad hole! He sings a song about a jelly roll!" How can you resist?


People copy the Secret Song File's look all the time. The hair, the lips, the eyebrows. Sitting in her office, she often thinks about confronting her lookalikes, but what's the point? Should a certain R&B singer cry foul? After all, he did his white-boy-soul thing first, then Justin Timberlake copied him; then he created a music video with naked models, and Justin Timberlake copied him again.


But let's be honest, they're both stealing from the Gloved One, and he stole right and left from James Brown and Bob Fosse (everyone steals from Fosse) It's like a hall of mirrors, isn't it? All the lines are getting blurred (*cough*), especially on this nicely smooth EP by an artist whose first name is the same as a familiar superhero's sidekick, and whose last is the same as Audrey's eyebrows.

And yet, no one beats these eyebrows; gone, but never forgotten.

Use an eyebrow pencil in the comments, if you like!

4 comments:

Mindy said...

Thanks for the Bertice Reading! Brilliant.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Mindy! And there's more Bertice to come...

Anonymous said...

I've never really got into Vikki Carr. But I love a medley she did of "Make It Easy On Yourself" and "Knowing When To Leave" from an old Burt Bacharach TV special.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You might like her "Discovery!" LP if she isn't usually to your taste. This was early-early in her career so the affectations haven't take over.

I'll have to look for that Bacharach TV clip!