Saturday, March 2, 2013

Leo Diamond - Skin Diver Suite + Dave Harris & The Powerhouse Five - Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals (2fer, CD, 1995)

This 1k limited edition compact disc, released at the height of the Lounge Revival (1995), consists of two wholly unique LPs in the Bachelor Pad Universe. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that they are both pivotal albums of Space Age esoterica. Indeed, both offer visually-tantalizing cover art and equally satiating sounds. Mind you, the same cannot be said for every album with eye-catching artwork released during the same time -- often a spellbinding cover masked disappointingly mediocre recordings.

All Space Age Pop aficionados know about Leo Diamond's Skin Diver Suite. It's got one of the all-time best cheesecake covers, and one that might very well have been controversial for its year of release (1956). I can just imagine some of the stuffier types walking into a record store back then and getting offended by the breasts of the mermaid, partially hidden only by her hair. Also worthy of note is that this is a "Sea Exotica" record. While most Exotica was comprised of themes from either outer space or Polynesian/South American/sometimes-African territory, very few take their concepts under water. In actuality, there are only a handful of other "Sea Exotica" albums (Les Baxter's Jewels Of The Sea being another big one).

Skin Diver Suite is a uniquely-executed and inventive LP in other ways too. Diamond, being the harmonica virtuoso that he was, leads the way while backed by a full orchestra(!). I mean, c'mon, no one else was doing that, and no one else has done it since. :)
Dave Harris' Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals (1961), on the other hand, features great cover art as well. A tenor saxophonist and soloist for the original Raymond Scott Quintet, Harris pays his own homage to the great Scott through the course of twelve wonderfully eccentric tunes. It's a truly incredible album, and one that satisfies easily as much as the originals.

While the musical contents on this release are top-notch, the quality control that went into it seems to be practically nonexistent. For one thing, it's ripped from vinyl and the sound quality is horrible. They did a good job of removing the clicks and the pops, but the acoustical characteristics sound kind of weak, pale and sickly. While ripping from vinyl doesn't necessarily guarantee second-rate (or worse) sound quality, this release lacks the luster and warmth that it could have had -- and would have ultimately resulted only from a more professional job than the one done here. Another reason that I'm not going to complain about the vinyl ripping in and of itself is that the master tapes for these albums might not exist anymore. Even if they did exist, Lord knows what kind of condition they'd be in.

Another problem that I have with this release is that it offers only Side A of Skin Diver Suite. While Side B contains mostly filler standards, I feel like they're not really doing justice to the original LPs. Troublesome, too, is that it's not a matter run-time limitation -- technically both albums in full would have fit onto an 80-minute compact disc.

Unfortunately, I have to say that, while it's great to have these old LPs in digital form, they did not do a good enough job on this release (in my personal opinion). If you're going to make a 1k limited edition of two obscure albums recorded half a century ago, I believe it's important to respect the work of the composers and engineers and exert a decent effort to do them justice. That "decent effort" is not present here.

Click here to view the liner notes!

Track 01: The Skin Divers, part one

Track 09: Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals

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