…and Rocks!

Louis Prima Jr. commingles the punch and energy of his rock band heritage with his famous dad’s classic (and lesser known) material, rendering a very strong debut LP release —  Return of the Wildest!.

LPjr specifically sets a course with this album to honor the “beyond distinctive” Prima Sr., but without a heavy handed tribute orientation … pay homage to “The King of Swing” icon that was his father, but do so with a style and charts that reflect Prima Jr.’s generation.

LPsr constantly embraced “the new” over his 50 year stage run and even incorporated Rock & Roll stylings into his act toward the end of his career — a career sadly and abruptly truncated by a brain tumor in the mid ’70′s. I think Prima Sr. would be very proud to see/hear how his son has treated these classic numbers … made them his (Jr.) own.

As fresh and distinctive as it is, Return Of The Wildest! won’t make you forget the father. Rather it will deepen your appreciation for the talent and frenetic musical styles of both father and son … disparate in some ways, hauntingly familiar in others but always swing’n … ALWAYS fun!

 The Jr. effect…

I have to admit I came to Return of the Wildest! with more than a little trepidation. The path for children trying to follow their parents success in this industry is tough — and hardest of all for “Jr.s”. The expectations and pressure can be enormous.

The Jr. pressure goes off the scale when the parent they’re drafting is an icon of the era. I think the only guy with a tougher row to hoe is Frank Sinatra Jr. When I look back on FSjr’s path, I have nothing but admiration for the guy even stepping up to the plate, never mind plying a long (ongoing) and successful career in the business.

My god, can there be anything harder than trying to pay homage to (but not mimic) Frank Sinatra … be different (but not too different) … be a great performer (but never as good) as the biggest star and greatest vocal talent of our time. Makes me sweat just typing this!

Though not Sinatra, Louis Prima too was a giant in his own right … simply put, Louis Prima IS Swing. Scores of hit songs and albums scattered across the better part of 50 years underpin his amazing legacy. More than just distinctive, LP’s raspy hot vocal style was absolutely unique and the intensity he brought to his saucy, sexy catalog of swinging songs is legendary.

Shadowing into that legacy … the legacy of a giant with the associated pressure cooker of expectations — both reasonable and crazy — Louis Prima Jr. steps up to the plate to perform the music of his legendary father?

Wow, that storyline alone had me squarely on the hook to take up LPjr’s debut album. So, with a long Prima Sr. listening history built into my psyche and some of those aforementioned expectations in tow I teed up…

Return Of The Wildest!

Accompanied by his brasstastic band — “The Witnesses” — and the lovely and talented Sarah Spiegel, LPjr pulls off a fine debut with this Warrior Records/Universal Distribution release. This is a very nicely mastered LP that was recorded at the Tone Factory in Vegas and co-produced by  Prima Jr. and Tony Castaldo.

Jr. tosses back to his dad’s legacy by playing off the name of Prima Sr.’s 1956 super hit, Hall of Fame album The Wildest. Taking it one step further, LPjr names his band after Prima Sr’s brassy backing. These are heady plays that could have backfired if Prima Jr. didn’t deliver the goods where it counts … with the music. As it turns out … No problemo!

For the most part, LPjr does an excellent job evoking the Crescent City jazz styled swing of his dad’s original material. Front and center horns and Marco Palos’ classically dirty sax are pervasive though out the set list. But Jr. and The Witnesses also weave rock-forward elements (keyboard and electric guitar) into the mix and drive an intensity level that might even exhaust the old man … it’s wild and fun stuff.

Louis Prima Jr.’s vocals definitely echo his father but there’s no sense of impersonation — a good thing. Jr. does maintain much of the classic phrasing on the iconic numbers like “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail” and “Just a Gigolo” …  also a smart play that helps allay the concerns of the “they call ‘em classics for a reason” crowd. Hey, I’m all for reinterpretation and exploration but some things just don’t need to be tweaked (too much) and LPjr get’s it right here.

Expectations met…

LPjr does a fine job on those “high expectations” numbers and I count his rendition of “Just a Gigolo” as one of my favorites on the record. That said I think he leads off the LP with what might be the best number of the bunch … a hard driving, brassy, rock guitar tinged version of the classic “Oh Babe”. Prima Jr.’s haunting scat weave with Marco’s sax is very cool and has me reaching for his dad’s LPs for a listen later.

The full track list is rated below but three other numbers stood out for me. A song I hadn’t associated with Louis Prima — “Night Train” — is taken for a slow New Orleans blues stroll and becomes a spectacular soap box for Marco Palos’ sax.

Sarah Spiegel nimbly sings her way through a very fine version of the frail tongue twister “I Want You To Be My Baby”, followed by “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me” where LPjr and Ms. Spiegel come closest to evoking that old Prima Sr./Keely Smith feel’n … now where did I put those Louis Prima records? ;-)

Mostly…

There were a couple of weak spots on the set list … I just didn’t cotton to the tempo and styling of “A Sunday Kind Of Love”. I like this song a lot in the Etta James, Dinah Washington, Jo Stafford tradition … R&B shaded toward the blues (in Etta’s case pretty much straight up blues). Sarah Spiegel’s vocals are nice enough but the song seemed to wallow a bit and struggle for identity.

LPjr comes at you with a New Orleans street jazz, sassy walking pace tempo version of “I Wan’na Be Like You” … it’s good stuff but I’ve come to love this number charted with more of a salsa/Merengue bent. Hey, this is just me though … Prima Jr. and the gang don’t drop the ball on this number as much as it just lays a little flat up against my preferences … damn expectations.

What a fun album!

Chock full of Louis Prima’s classic material …lively, swinging and wonderfully rendered by Louis Prima Jr., Sarah Spiegel and The Witnesses. Cast off your preconceptions and expectations and give Return of the Wildest! a spin … join in the fun of figuring out where “Louis ends … and Prima Jr. begins”!

Return Of The Wildest! – Louis Prima Jr.

(VS_Guy ratings: “+++” pluses are good; “~” for meh to middling;  “- – -” minuses are not good)

1. Oh Babe 3:28 +++ LPjr leads out with his best; great vocals, sax and a wicked guitar
2. Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (feat. Sarah Spiegel) 2:20 ++ straight play on this number… Hello Sarah!
3. Night Train 2:59 +++ instrumental classic at a bluesy gait that works great
4. I Wan’na Be Like You 3:33 + Well performed but stylistically off my mark
5. A Sunday Kind of Love (feat. Sarah Spiegel) 4:38 ~ wallowing tempo doesn’t do this song justice
6. Las Vegas Woman 3:20 ++ Crescent City pur … growl horns growl!
7. I Want You to Be My Baby (feat. Sarah Spiegel) 1:54 +++ Go Sarah go!
8. You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me (feat. Sarah Spiegel) 1:50 ++ Got that Prima-Keely feel’n
9. Jump, Jive, An’ Wail 3:42  ++ pretty straight play of this cornerstone classic… until the organ kicks in!
10. Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody) 4:38 ++++ OK, maybe this is the best number on the record … hmmm

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  1. [...] this summer it started with Luca Ellis, Anna Mjöll and Louis Prima Jr. … and of late there’s been Susan Chastain, Megan Hilty and now the round, soulful and [...]

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