Revinylization #4: Sundazed Music/Modern Harmonic and Speakers Corner

Singer/actress Nancy Priddy's sole commercial recording, a 1968 album titled You've Come This Way Before—originally issued on Dot Records and now reissued by Sundazed Music/Modern Harmonic (Dot/Modern Harmonic MH-8044)—is a period piece. The arrangements, in which strings, flutes, Herb Alpert–esque trumpets, a harpsichord, a Vox Continental organ, and New Christy Minstrel–style backing singers all appear, are somewhat dated. (Indeed, the opening bars of the title song sound like the sort of cheesy electric pop that the producers of This American Life use as incidental music, apparently to express their limitless stockpiles of irony.) And some of Priddy's lyrics make the listener thankful for her poor enunciation.

But with the exception of the Side Two opener, "My Friend Frank"—which may in fact be the worst song I've ever heard—the music is fascinating, filled with interesting key changes and tempo shifts. Although the liner notes are sketchy on credits and the LP's label is itself information-free, the composers appear to be John Simon—yes, that John Simon—and Manny Albam.

And I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that the mostly superb sound of this reissue had a lot to do with my falling in love with it. But more to the point, this quirkily colorful music is strangely addictive, and to hear it now is to wonder why we had to wait more than 50 years for it to reappear on vinyl.

Prior to making You've Come This Way Before, Nancy Priddy dabbled in acting and contributed harmony vocals to three songs on Leonard Cohen's 1967 debut album. From there, she went on to devote her time to acting, as would her arguably more well-known daughter, Christina Applegate. And Priddy's record producer, Phil Ramone—yes, that Phil Ramone—would himself go on to bigger and better things. But the weirdly charming little album they left behind in 1968 endures and is very much worth another listen.

"Do not be so overpowered by his technique that you neglect to listen to the music he plays."

Thus wrote Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein in his liner notes for Here is Phineas, the 1956 debut album by pianist Phineas Newborn Jr., which has been reissued by Speakers Corner (Atlantic/Speakers Corner 1235). Remarkably, Wein also devotes a portion of his notes to describing what he considered at the time (footnote 1) to be Newborn's most serious shortcoming. That paragraph boils down to: The kid overplays, but I think he'll get over it.


On first listen, I thought the same thoughts about Newborn's playing: Way too many notes, not enough silences in between. Then I read Wein's observations, and thought back to the critics, from more or less the same era, who criticized Jascha Heifetz as a "cold" technician, lacking in soul (although that's not how they usually put it).

As I came to realize over the course of a few more listens, there's nothing soulless about Newborn's playing; his is the warmth of an artist anxious to express a great many things in a very short time —and I don't hold it against him that he had the monstrous tech- nique required to do so. Newborn's improvisations aren't narratives in the manner of Monk; his solos are more like free verse, invented on the spot and delivered with great virtuosity and, more often than not, lightning speed.

So maybe it's no coincidence that the album opens with a Charlie Parker tune, "Barbados," performed with Oscar Pettiford on bass, Kenny Clarke on drums —both appear on all but two of the album's eight selections —and the artist's younger brother, Calvin Newborn, on guitar. Here, Phineas Newborn charges out of the gate with extended lines of sixteenth notes and octave-heavy runs that seem all but impossible. Later on, his unaccompanied performance of "The More I See You" is four minutes of Art Tatum–inspired bliss. Then again, a seven-and-a-half-minute version of "All the Things You Are," only a minute of which is performed a tempo with the rhythm section, proves to be a little too much Phineas Newborn and not enough Jerome Kern.

The recording was produced by Nesuhi Ertegun and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder—the latter something I wouldn't have guessed without reading the credits, for a number of reasons: Pettiford's double bass lacks the vividness that was a hallmark of Van Gelder's sound; bass and drums both are buried in the mix; the comping of guitarist Calvin Newborn —save for a few scattered measures of Kenny Clarke's drumming, Phineas Newborn is the album's only soloist —is barely audible; and apart from a very wide piano image and the fact that the drums are mostly restricted to the right channel, it doesn't really sound like stereo. That last one itself begs the questions of how and why an LP recorded in 1956 came to be released in stereo, presumably after that format's commercial debut at the end of 1957? (Of course, two-channel recording was not unheard-of before then.) That said, the sound of this reissue is colorful, clear, and noise-free, and the music-making is quite literally in a class of its own.

Footnote 1: Wein, who turned 94 in 2019, is still with us.

tonykaz's picture

Nice work, MrAD.

I'm just now discovering The Jazz Shepherd.

This YouTube Music Reviewer & working DJ is fascinating, he plays what he is reviewing.

You lads are entering an exciting world of discovery and connectivity.

I never had an Audio Industry World so immensely wonderful!!

Tony in Venice

ps. Mr.Micalleff's recent YouTube brought us: The Jazz Shepherd, bringing us Hadda Brooks , thank you!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl' :-) ......