Keeping the music of days gone by alive in any age is key to any culture. The problem is that in the mainstream music industry, it seems increasingly that acts — regardless of genre — are trying less to keep that part of America’s culture alive than just trying to make a quick buck off of that music when they release covers compilations. There are so many coves compilations out there across the musical universe that in reality, they have become nearly irrelevant as a format. Keeping that in mind, it makes Alpha Rhythm Kings’ debut record, Sharp Dressed Men, an intriguing addition to this year’s field of new covers compilations. That is not to say that the 10-song record, scheduled for release through Dehlinger Productions, is a failure. Quite the opposite is the case, actually. It is worth hearing at least once. That is due in large part to its featured songs. This will be discussed shortly. The performances of those songs adds its own appeal to the presentation. They will be discussed a little later. The songs’ sequencing rounds out the most important of the record’s elements and brings everything full circle, completing the compilation’s presentation. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the record. All things considered, they make the collection a unique addition to this year’s field of new compilations and new jazz compilations.
Alpha Rhythm Kings’ debut record is an interesting way for the collective, which got its start in 2017, to really launch its professional recording career. That is because instead of being a profile of the band’s own talents, it is a covers collection. In other words, it is a presentation of the band’s talents in relation to others’ work. It is not necessarily the best way for any act – regardless of genre – to launch its career, since it is a presentation of said act performing another act’s music instead of its own work. To that end, the record must be examined for what it is, a covers collection. Keeping that in mind, the covers are important because of their diversity. From well-known to lesser-known, the songs touch on a wide range of acts and songs. Case in point is the collection’s closer, ‘That’s Life.’ The song, originally composed in 1963 by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, was first recorded by Marion Montgomery. However, it was not until 1966 when Frank Sinatra took on the song that it really became famous. The song has since gone on to be a timeless work. By comparison, the band also takes on ZZ Top’s equally classic ‘Sharp Dressed Man.’ So in these two tracks alone, audiences get a touch of jazz and rock, two completely different genres that are handled quite well through the arrangements and their performances. That aspect will be discussed a little later. On yet another note, the band brings renewed focus to Roy Milton, a lesser-known figure in the jazz community through its performance of ‘Short, Sweet and Snappy.’ In the same vein, fellow lesser-known jazz artist Julia Lee gets her own attention through this compilation in the band’s performance of her song, ‘Snatch and Grab It (Opportunity Knocks But Once),’ giving new attention to her and her work, too. Once more, audiences see the wide range of artists and music that Alpha Rhythm Kings covers in its debut record. Between these noted songs and artists, and others featured throughout the record, the whole of the record’s featured musical selections makes for reason enough in itself to give this record a chance. It is just a part of what makes the record worth the chance. The arrangements and performances thereof make for their own interest.
The arrangements and performances featured thereof in this record are unique in their own way. Case in point is the collective’s take on the 1921 song ‘The Sheik of Araby.’ The variance between the group’s swinging, up-tempo rendition and that made a century ago from inspiration from the movie The Sheik is stark needless to say. The original composition has some light jazz overtones as it progresses, but also boasts a clear string arrangement that breaks things up even more. ARK’s take on the song is more along the lines of something one might expect from the likes of the Brian Setzer Orchestra than the composition presented in that original work, right down to the vocals. At the same time, the group still manages to make the song its own and still enjoyable.
The group’s performance of King Perry’s ‘Keep A Dollar in Your Pocket’ is another example of the importance of the songs and performances featured in this record. Perry’s original composition is a relatively simple composition. It features Perry alongside a basic blues type piano/bass line. That line is countered effectively by Perry’s own work on saxophone here. The composition is relatively simple, but is still so enjoyable even in that simple approach. That same noted bass/piano foundation is just as evident in ARK’s take of the song. As a matter of fact, the band stays largely true to the song’s source material here with the slightest of alterations. The end result is a song and performance that not only brings new light to another lesser-known jazz figure, but to an equally enjoyable song from said artist. It is just one more example of the importance of the songs and performances featured in this record. The band’s take on the 1907 Will D. Cobb/Gus Edwards song ‘School Days’ is yet another example of the importance of the songs and performances featured here.
Everybody knows ‘School Days.’ It is a timeless tune. What must be kept in mind here is that allegedly, the original composition centered on a married couple that is looking back on its younger days together in elementary school. That would explain the simple wind ensemble arrangement made so popular in 1907 by Byron G. Harlon. The simplicity and innocence in the arrangement reflects the innocence that the couple felt in reminiscing those early days. There is also a piano-centered arrangement that is just as simple and endearing that conjures those thoughts of innocence and happiness. ARK’s rendition on the other hand is starkly unlike the original. The general composition is the same, but instead of the softer, simpler take of the song all those ages ago, the band opts again here for more of a Brian Setzer Orchestra type approach here. It is quite the energetic song and adds in some extra lyrics. The lyrics in question are old nursery rhymes to enhance the update even more. That lyrical and musical update makes this song its own unique presentation that audiences will enjoy in their own right. When it is considered along with the other covers examined here and the rest of the record’s songs, the whole makes fully clear the role that the arrangements and performances thereof play into the bigger picture of the record. Together with the diversity in the songs, the collective songs, their arrangements and performances make for plenty of reason for audiences to hear this collection. They are only a portion of what makes the record stand out among this year’s new covers sets. The sequencing of the works brings everything full circle and completes the record’s presentation.
The sequencing of the content in this record is important to examine because in this case, it plays directly into the collection’s pacing. As noted already, approximately 10 songs make up the record’s body. Those songs bring the record’s run time to only 28 minutes. That is not very long. Yet thanks to the record’s sequencing, audiences are actually left feeling fulfilled by the noted content. The songs’ energies run fluidly from one song to the next as a result of the noted sequencing. That means that audiences will never feel overwhelmed or bored at any point. To that end, the sequencing of this collection plays its own integral part to the overall presentation. It does just as much to keep audiences engaged and entertained as the record’s content and performance thereof. Considering all of this together, the record in whole proves to be an enjoyable compilation even if not the best way for Alpha Rhythm Kings to launch its professional recording career.
Alpha Rhythm Kings’ debut record is an interesting addition to this year’s field of new compilation records. While more a display of the band’s talents in relation to others’ works, it still serves its own purpose. That purpose is to bring renewed attention to a variety of well- and lesser-known jazz acts through its featured songs. The arrangements and performances thereof featured throughout this record add their own appeal to the presentation. That is because of the balance of the original compositions and updated takes in the songs. That balance makes each song unique in its own right. The sequencing of the total content brings everything full circle and completes the record’s presentation. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the record. All things considered, they make the compilation an interesting covers collection from Alpha Rhythm Kings. Sharp Dressed Man is scheduled for release Friday through Dehlinger Productions. More information on Sharp Dressed Men is available along with all of ARK’s latest news at:
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