Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Ventures - Mashed Potatoes and Gravy & Going to the Ventures Dance party (1962)

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

For an album that yielded not a single hit (and which was one of five long-players released by the band in 1962), Mashed Potatoes and Gravy (later retitled The Ventures' Beach Party) is one hell of an enjoyable album and still a very solid and substantial album, over 40 years later. The group's sound was lean and mean all the way through, whether doing a respectful cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime" or raucous renditions of "Lucille," "Poison Ivy," and "Hully Gully." Even the seeming throwaway numbers, such as "Hot Summer (Asian Mashed)," with its faux-Eastern embellishments, and the soaring "Spudnik," are played with such virtuosity and spirit that they demand attention, and there are a surprising number of vocals on this album, albeit mostly of the nature of choruses on songs like "The Wah-Watusi" and "Hully Gully."

Going to the Ventures Dance party

This is a pleasant album, though some of it lacks the edge and focus of its direct predecessor. And, yet, Going to the Ventures' Dance Party! is notable on several levels, most especially the drumming, which, at this late date in 1962, was being provided by Mel Taylor; he's the most impressive part of this record, playing circles around the rest of the band on "Mr. Moto," "Ya Ya Wobble," and much of the rest, just throwing in these fills and rolls that weave in and out of the sound like he's in a whole different universe from the rest of the band, except that he keeps a beat like nobody's business. Even more astounding is that his virtuosity is presented as quietly and easily as it is, no mean feat on the drums. On "Venus" he is as much a part of the piece as Nokie Edwards' lead guitar, yet one never loses the melody, and similarly, on "The Intruder," he's out in front without overwhelming the group's sound or the song. On "Gandy Dancer," he almost goes a little too far with the high-hat, but holds back enough to prevent this from becoming the rock-era equivalent of some of those unfortunate, mismatched Gene Krupa showcases of the 1940s. Side two of the original LP (i.e., the last six cuts) was a killer, either as dance music or a virtuoso musical showcase, perfectly balanced even as pop music in the sweetly lyrical renditions of "Limbo Rock" and "Lolita Ya-Ya"; one sort of wishes they'd tried to pull off "Loco-Motion" without the female chorus, but the mix of an almost-breathless, soto voce female chorus and Edwards' guitar is fun and almost impossible to resist.
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