Mighty Sparrow: Volume Two

Track List

>Wood in the Fire
>Sparrow Dead
>Calypso Boogaloo
>Oriental Touch
>Pan Man
>Sell the Pussy
>Lion and Donkey
>Good Citizen
>Miss Mary
>Same Time, Same Place

Album Notes

Personnel: Mighty Sparrow (vocals, guitar).

Mighty Sparrow defined modern calypso, completely dominating the scene from the mid-'50s on to the late-'70s arrival of soca, so these Ice compilations of his best songs are pretty much a godsend as a starting point for newcomers. He developed a quintessential Caribbean "long live the living" persona, and Volume 2 is a very strong collection of songs that most likely date from the '60s (with no song date details or real liner notes, that's a best guess based on occasional details in the lyrics).

Sparrow's in a randy mood here, with many songs full of the clever sexual wordplays so beloved in calypso, like the very thinly veiled "talk dirty to me, baby" double entendre to "Wood in De Fire." Sometimes he teeters on the brink of offensive -- the "big fat Mississippi mama" of "Calypso Boogaloo" just slides by as word-spinning description, like his very funny "news of my death is greatly exaggerated" take on rumor-mongers in "Sparrow Dead." But "sell the pussy and bring the cash to me" from "Sell The Pussy?" -- don't know about that one.

Musically, everything here lands right in the pocket. Sparrow is a totally convincing singer, knows how to construct his hooks around the insistent dance drive with a big band horn section sound that's so flashy and baroque, it often brings a movie soundtrack to mind. Tunes like "Jane" and "Miss Mary" are just really well-constructed songs -- intricate section parts are criss-crossing all the time, but the musicians never get in each other's way. They play a lot, in general, but the tunes never sound busy.

"Calypso Boogaloo" has almost an early James Brown rhythm flavor, and "Bongo" sports a more African drum feel. "Oriental Touch" has Sparrow-the-world-traveler at Expo '70 in Osaka, using Asian motifs (playing to stereotype? Or a salute to another music tradition? Hard to tell) with a complex melody as Trinidad's irresistible man in Japan converts a geisha to singing the praises of carnival. "Pan Man" is pretty straight-up calypso, "Lion and Donkey (Rematch)" is an amusing boxing story that almost certainly has hidden symbolic meaning to someone living in Trinidad at the time it was recorded.

"Good Citizen" is the one social commentary song that takes on the powers-that-be over corruption, censorship, and economic oppression. The lyric "Why should they persecute a brother for seeking black power?" could be double-sided -- Sparrow forced to respond to critics for never speaking out or using his popularity to give a thumbs-up to government critics for the everyday people in Trinidad.

Again, it's hard to tell, but what's not hard to say is that these Mighty Sparrow collections are essential for anyone interested in calypso and Caribbean music in general. ~ Don Snowden


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