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Customer Review

on May 11, 2007
As a Manhattan Transfer fan from the first time I saw them on the Merv Griffin Show in 1974, I bought the LP of "Experiment in White" upon its release in 1982, without having heard note one. I haven't had a working turntable since the early 90s, and hadn't heard this collection in probably 15 years. I think Janis Siegel is one of the better pop and jazz vocalists of her generation (I fear that her decades of relative pop success with the ManTran have deprived Janis of the jazz cred enjoyed by contemporaries like Cassandra Wilson and whippersnappers like Jane Monheit); but back in '82, I found this album scattered and only intermittently interesting -- still do. Like many of the Transfer's albums, when it's good it's very good; and when it's not, one wonders what she could possibly have been thinking. "Back To The Islands" is in mono (on purpose -- the liner notes reference Phil Spector and "Back to Mono", in French yet), but aside from that, there's nothing particularly special about it: it could be Nicolette Larson. The other obvious attempts at a hit single ("All The Love In The World", "Lovin' Eyes", "To Be With You") are equally typical 80s pop fare, and none of these cuts age particularly well. Things finally get crackin' with "Hammer and Nails", a cover of a tragically obscure Staple Singers number from 1962, with a beat borrowed from the Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can Can", Phoebe Snow trading lead vocals, and veteran session singer Cissy Houston and the young Whitney on backups. Side two of the LP began with "How High the Moon", which probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but it's merely a note-perfect copy of the Les Paul-and-Mary Ford record, so why bother? (The Manhattan Transfer would record it, as well, so somebody must have liked it.) "Guess Who I Saw Today" showcases Janis' Big Ballad voice and it's good, but you only need to hear it once (it's not Janis' fault -- it's the nature of the song itself). Along with "Hammer and Nails", two collaborations with Jon Hendricks are the high points: "Don't Get Scared", which Hendricks had originally performed with King Pleasure in the 50s, and "Jackie", originally done by Annie Ross just prior to the formation of Lambert Hendricks and Ross. Again, they're both the kind of note-for-note covers that were the Transfer's bread and butter for the first 20 or so years of their career, but they're well executed and not the most obvious choices she might have made (I mean, hey, she could have done "Twisted"). The bonus track, "I'm Into Something Good", is just plain unnecessary -- Herman's Hermits did this one for the ages, and just about anybody who cares about such things has also heard Earl-Jean's (slightly less fabulous) original. The fact that Ellie Greenwich (who co-wrote the song) sings back-up on it is trivia. Besides, back in the day, Ellie was singing back-up for just about anybody who'd have her. I bought this CD for old times' sake, and for "Hammer and Nails" (which righteously rocks). But unless you're a Janis Siegel freak or a Manhattan Transfer completist, I'd turn back if I were you.
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