Mighty Sparrow With Byron Lee And The Dragonaires
Sparrow Meets The Dragon
1969 SpaLee Records – SLP – 001
A2 No Money No Love
A3 More And More Amour
A4 Born Free
A6 Walk Away
B1 Peace And Love
B2 Only A Fool
B3 Theme From Doctor Zhivago
B4 Make The World Go Away
B5 Try A Little Tenderness
Producer – Byron Lee
RIPPING PROCESS: SpaLee-001 US vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; Audioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on light settings, manually auditioning the output; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using SoX for 16-44 version. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
This is a fun little record that is something of a classic but, in my opinion, probably less than the sum of its parts. Both these guys have a bazillion records to their names and, no matter what your specific tastes, you can probably find a few that would tickle your earholes a little more than this. But I suppose the album is a snapshot in an important time in their careers. It was released and distributed internationally at a time when not many of their recordings were available outside of their home territories, but as their international profile was rising through live performances in North America and the UK. My American pressing does not have liner notes, but from what I can just barely read from the blurry pics somebody took of the Jamaican gatefold version, this album was almost made like a joint effort of international diplomacy and/or development of the tourist industry. At the time both Sparrow and Bryon Lee were big names from tiny islands, and the idea of throwing both their combos together into a studio seemed to play up their roles as cultural ambassadors to the world for Caribbean music. Friends of this blog more knowledgeable in Jamaican music history can no doubt situate Bryon Lee’s career better than I can and are encouraged to leave comments below. I know he did some important work as a producer and arranger in Jamaica but I mostly know him from a smattering of carnival / calypso-soca records from the 70’s. (By which I mean the smattering that I’ve heard – he released dozens of ’em!) I presume those LPs were a direct result of this collaboration with Sparrow, as he seems to have stepped up his engagements in Trinidad and Tobago in the wake of its success. This album was pressed in dozens of different countries and reissued a whole bunch of times, sometimes under the title “Only A Fool.” So it’s a pity that it is actually kind of lightweight.
The calypso songs are pretty solid, especially the opener “Maria”, which essentially appears again as “Peace and Love” with its silly and naughty word-play — the melody and chord progression are basically identical in the two songs. Lee and the Dragonairres are mostly known for playing instrumental versions of other peoples’ material, and I find the instrumental stuff on this LP pretty groovy. “More and More Amour” and “Theme From Doctor Zhivago” do not disappoint. I’m inclined to think it was Lee’s idea to get Sparrow to sing so many contemporary popular songs on this album, and these are much less interesting to me. For these ballads, Sparrow’s voice takes on crooner proportions in the vein of a hotel lounge singer. His renditions of ‘Born Free’ and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ are at best fun kitsch, and at worst utterly unnecessary. I will confess that his rendition of “Walk Away” makes me tear up a little, but that is probably just because its a great song that I can personally relate to. But the track that ended up a huge hit from this collection is their rendition of “Only A Fool,” an Arthur Prysock tune that has been recorded by a slew of different artists, including Tom Jones. There is nothing particularly Caribbean about this Sparrow/Byron Lee rendition other than the people performing it, and it’s a bit baffling to me why it became such a huge success. Obviously it resonated with an audience, though. Not only did it remain in Sparrow’s live repertoire for years, it was even reissued in 1977 by Trojan Records, with an accompanying promotional video clip in which Sparrow manages to invent the future outfit of the Super Mario Brothers while awkwardly singing the hit song, strolling on the beach.
I’ve had this post ready in the wings for months and what I guess prompted me to finally put it up here is that Notting Hill carnival is about to take place in London. While revelers will be observing a moment of solemnity and attempted silence for the 79 people killed in the horrific Glenfell Towers fire this past June, London police are demonizing the festival through ham-fisted public relations like the “crackdown” described in this Guardian op-ed piece. With all the blatant, unapologetic racism on display in my own country, it’s a bit disappointing to see Scotland Yard blowing their own dog-whistles.
Music helps bring power to the people, I say, so here’s a small contribution to the cause. I might even have another surprise post in this genre in the next few days, who knows!