El Toro Records is one of the most exciting labels in the world if you are a fan of early Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Rockabilly, Hillbilly and Country music. Their catalog consists of little-known classic music from the days when Rock ‘n’ Roll was in its infancy (ie: the ‘50s) as well as contemporary artists who magically capture that vintage sound in modern studios. Sometimes, when I’m listening to one of their ‘new’ artists, I have to peruse the booklet to verify that it is indeed a current artist and not an obscure mid ‘50s recording by a long-forgotten performer. In essence, El Toro Records offers thrills without the extra frills. This is music stripped to its core – primitive, wild, vibrant and vital.
The label’s latest batch of releases are some of their best yet. Here, I’ll offer a few thoughts on each the releases, but bear in mind that all are very worthy of your attention. Perfect for those who want to turn back the clock to the days when primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll blared out of the corner jukebox of the local diner and would have sounded great alongside some of Elvis’ Sun Records sides.
THE WISE GUYZ/Hot Summer Nights
One of El Toro’s most prolific artists, The Wise Guyz are a fantastic modern Rockabilly band from the Ukraine with an authentic ‘50s sound. If your idea of Rockabilly is the Stray Cats, then leave those thoughts at the door – The Wise Guyz are here to introduce you to a batch of hot monaural recordings that blend Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hillbilly and R&B and really swings! You’ll be convinced that this is an actual album from an unknown ‘50s Midwestern outfit… although the sometimes noticeable Ukranian accent might give the game away. The addition of some great sax playing adds to the fun. And you’ll be amazed that almost every track here is a Wise Guyz original! Recommended tracks: “Miss Chris,” “Way That I Love,” “Don’t Break Your Poor Heart,” “Cool Cool Boy,” “How Long,” and the title track.
TERRY O’CONNEL & HIS PILOTS/If You Give Me One More Try
First time I played this album, I didn’t look at the liner note info and let the music do the talking. To be honest, I thought that this album was a collection of rare and obscure recordings by a ‘50s artist I’d never heard of. It was only afterwards did I realize that Terry O’Connel is indeed a new Swedish artist who plays authentic Rock ‘n’ Roll. It can be astounding to hear an artist turn back the clock some 60 years and still sound fresh – sounding vintage doesn’t mean that they aren’t electrifying. Closer to classic Sun Records recordings than The Wise Guyz, there’s even a hint of Elvis in Terry’s vocals (although that is probably unintentional). Solid from top to bottom, this is great slab of rockin’ fun. Recommended tracks: “Say Yes,” “Let My Sorrow Roam Free,” “Let’s Cut To The Chase,” “Cupid I Blame You,” “Let My Sorrow Roam Free,” and the title track.
BLUEGRASS STUFF/The Old Bridge
Though I have never heard of them before, Italy’s Bluegrass Stuff has been one of Europe’s most beloved Bluegrass outfits for over 35 years! Their sound is traditional American Bluegrass and recalls many of the great Bluegrass bands that have kept the music alive over the last 80 years or so. But don’t you get ‘trad Bluegrass’ confused with that annoying hipster Americana stuff that is all the rage these days! No, Bluegrass Stuff play it like it always should be played: with heart, with vigor and with respect. And boy, can these guys play! Stunning. A good time guaranteed for all! Recommended tracks: “Hurt And Feeling Sad,” “Big Ball In Brooklin,” “My Swiss Mountain Lullaby” (complete with yodeling!), “Drinkin’ Her Memory Away,” and the mournful “Do Not Pass Me By.”
GEORGE BARNES/Restless Guitar: 1952-1962 (2CD)
Before the internet made more information accessible to music fans, session musicians were often the overlooked heroes of recorded music. George Barnes was most definitely one of the most important guitar players for nearly 40 years before a heart attack ended his life in 1977 at the age of 56. So, why was he so important? Well, he is believed to have played the first electric guitar in ’31 and made the first commercial recording of an electric guitar in ’38. He appeared on so many recordings during his career that he may have been the most prolific guitarist of the pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll era. These two double disc collections gather together some of his finest work and breaks them up into four different categories: Blues & Country Jazz (1938-48), Swing & Country Jazz (1948-57), Pop, Plunk & Twang (1952-61) and Rhythm, Blues & Rock ‘n’ Roll (1956-62). Though there are a myriad of styles to choose from here – a total of 120 tracks – they are all held together by Barnes’ fluid and clean style. Not quite Jazz, not quite Blues and not quite Country, his playing mixes it all up and carries each of the recordings. These discs include songs released under his own name as well as tracks with Big Bill Broonzy, Jazz Gillum, Washboard Sam, Blind John Davis, The Sweet Violet Boys, Dean Hightower, Jaycee Hill, The Coasters, Chuck Willis, Homer & Jethro, Janis Martin, Little Willie John, Dinah Washington and many others. So much great stuff to listen to from a guitar legend.
FREDDY VELAS & THE SILVERTONES/Back To Street Harmonies
I love Doo Wop and to hear a modern band take a stab at vintage-sounding Rhythm & Blues/Doo Wop is a pure delight. If you didn’t know better, these could be straight from America in the mid ‘50s, but make no mistake – Freddy and the boys are a modern Italian Doo Wop band with great guitar, sax, piano, drums, bass and heavenly harmonies. This is an album that takes the listener back to a simpler time when music was created to entertain people and inspire them to dance and fall in love. This is a wonderful slice of fun that should NOT be missed by those looking for music perfect for their next sock hop! Recommended tracks: “Lulu,” “Crazy Over You,” “Dance Girl,” “Doo Wop Time,” “Life Is But A Dream,” and “Shouldn’t I.”