All tracks have been digitally remastered.
Personnel: Mighty Sparrow (vocals).
Liner Note Authors: Ray Funk; Anthony Carter.
The Ice series of Mighty Sparrow releases goes back to the beginnings here, with a strong collection of his prime late-'50s/early-'60s material. It was songs like "May May" that helped make Sparrow the undisputed king, the man in modern calypso in Trinidad until the soca wave arrived to challenge him in the late '70s. Musically, it's calypso coming out of big band with mellifluous horn sections prominent and a subtly propulsive rhythm section that never forces itself over the melodies. There are big horns in the background of "Jook for Jook," but it's typical of Sparrow's arrangements that all the elements fall in place so well; the music sounds full but not cluttered. And he constantly impresses as a very smooth, fluid vocalist negotiating complex melodies and rapid changes, or dropping into romantic crooner mode among the horns and harmonies of "Rose." The song, one of his early big hits, is very well-constructed period pop, although maybe a little corny so many years removed from its first release. Similarly, it's best to cut a bit of slack for the unflattering portrait of a greedy woman on "Teresa" or the badly outdated male-female psychology concepts in "Man Like to Feel," given that they're strong tracks and were, after all, recorded back around 1960. But what impresses most on Volume Four, and a key element in his popularity in Trinidad, is how funny the lyrics are and how Sparrow isn't afraid to poke fun at himself. "Dear Sparrow" is a Dear John letter with Sparrow as the cuckolded victim -- instead of lashing out, he's smooth and reasonable even through the final kiss-off when he tells his cheating woman to give the baby to the other man who the kid looks like. "Steering Wheel" is a hilarious tale of amorous adventures run amok in a parked car -- Chuck Berry's grudge against the safety belt that wouldn't budge in "No Particular Place to Go" has some company here.
"Simpson (The Funeral Man)" is both the first of his "news of my death is greatly exaggerated" routines and the opening salvo in a famous jive-fighting feud with Lord Melody that fuels a few songs here. He's not above being petty here, though, unfortunately attacking Melody through his women on "Madam Dracula." But "Well Spoken Moppers" is a funny general putdown of people who aim to impress by their command of fancy words -- a quality highly valued in calypso -- but who don't know what the words mean or how to use them correctly. "Russian Satellite" is a clever commentary on space exploration fever kicked off by Sputnik with a great "Send up a Russian/Don't send up Rover" line referring to an earlier space test involving a dog that died. But Sparrow is dead serious and seriously ahead of the curve on street violence and arms dealing on "Gunslingers" and street gang assault on "Ten to One Is Murder." The former's dead-on portrait of rude boy youth is partly offset by soothing vocals and sunny music while the latter, another big 1961 hit for Sparrow, is calypso as the people's newspaper reporting from the scene of the street crime. It's unsettling that Sparrow was writing about these themes in 1960, but it may also be a good indication of why he became so dominant a figure. Volume Four is probably the most valuable compilation in the Ice series for newcomers to calypso and Trinidad music, because it focuses on the material Sparrow was writing and recording in the process of establishing himself as the undisputed king. ~ Don Snowden