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Released in conjunction with Donald R. Hill's book of the same name (University Press of Florida, 1993), this aural accompaniment provides ample proof of the spirit and variety of early calypso recordings. Hill has compiled a sampling of the history of calypso on record, and the result is a collector's dream -- tracks from the Smithsonian and other archives and from commercial studios, most of the recordings very rare. This collection truly captures the spirit of Carnival.
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Rounder Records deserves much praise for brightening up the often dull and familiar American pop musicscape with a flurry of releases that challenge our stereotypical view of "island music." This is particularly true of the music of Trinidad and Tobago, identified in the American popular mind with the synthetic Calypso-meets-disco sound of soca. While soca is a more complex and worthy genre than some opine, it's associated less with Calypso's social protest and hilariously witty innuendo than with less-graceful expressions like popular soca artist Arrow's sexual request in "Winey Winey" to "winey winey 'pon your pum-pum." This fascinating CD puts the gleam on the fine old wood of the earliest Calypso songs, featuring wonderfully baroque orchestrations from the finest T&T Calypso orchestras from 1914 to the '50s, with elegant keyboard passages, swooning strings, snaking horns, exotic male choruses with African overtones, and the sublime vocals of seminal Calypsonians such as Lionel Belasco, Roaring Lion, Babb and Williams, Houdini, Lord Executor, and Lord Invader. This collection of treasures from the Smithsonian, other archives, and commercial studios transformed a series of tracks by the set's producers into a heady taste of carnival through the decades. Calypso Calaloo is actually the aural accompaniment to Donald R. Hill's written volume Calypso Calaloo: Early Carnival Music in Trinidad, a fascinating account of that island's music pioneers, its world-famous annual carnival, and the culture that spawned it. --Elena Oumano
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"Yaraba Shango" by The Growling Tiger and "The Lajobless" by The Lord Executor are two wonderful examples of dramatic minor-key storytelling songs. The recording of Lionel Belasco's piano solo "Trinidad Carnival" is a modern-day transcription of a unique piano roll. It's fun to listen to The Lort Invader's version of the song he claims was stolen from him, Rum and coca cola, even if the performance of the song here is a bit ragged. My favorite part of that recording is the introduction: "that song which has the world upset, Rum and Coca Cola - in the way it was intended to be sung". In other words: not like the Andrews Sisters did it. Other good ones: "Lis Camille" and "Uncle Jo' Gimme Mo'" by the underrated (in some quarters) Wilmouth Houdini, and a couple of others.
I would rate this CD a 5 for these tracks alone, but some of the instrumentals are not quite on that level.