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Mighty Sparrow: Volume Three

Track List

>Carnival Woman
>Boogie Beat
>King Kong
>Papa Rat
>Life Down in Hell
>Du Yemi, Du
>New York Blackout
>Miss Universe
>Idi Amin
>Pan Tuner, The
>Soca Man

Album Notes

Personnel includes: The Mighty Sparrow (vocals).

Composers: Winsford Devine; Francisco Slinger.

Personnel: Mighty Sparrow (vocals).

Given calypso's original reputation as "the people's newspaper," song titles like "Idi Amin," "Rastamania," and "New York Blackout" would probably place the songs on Volume Three in the mid-late-'70s (no track date info or liner notes again). The more measured tempos and sparer, punchier arrangements with horns present, but not so prominently, and the increase in songwriting collaborations with his partner, Winsford "Joker" DeVignes, suggest adaptations to changing times by the Mighty Sparrow. What hasn't changed is the convincing singing, consummate craftsmanship, and how adroit he is at smoothly fitting his wordy lyrics into the musical flow.

"Rastamania" is a lively, straight calypso with no reggae traces -- Sparrow seems to be functioning here in the role of "voice of the people" giving the thumbs up to this new strain of Caribbean man. It's the same deal with "Miss Universe," except that here he's voicing national pride by singing the praises of Miss Trinidad for winning the international beauty contest.

"Life Down in Hell" is a vividly imagined fantasy of an inverted underworld, with a very energetic backing, strong horns, some Latin piano tinges, and wordplay about the devil ramming a poker in "they ear's hole." "King Kong" is a fairly lightweight fantasy of Sparrow taking over the town, dance floor and carnival, but "Papa Rat" is one of his animal songs with a labored metaphor that seems chiefly designed to give people the cheap thrill of singing about pussy in public.

He's much stronger with the vivid description of "New York Blackout," conveying some of the fear and chaos of street level looting over a racing backing track colored by police sirens. "Idi Amin" is in the same people's newspaper vein, both clever and funny in its commands of words, while not shying away from condemnation, and Volume Three's entry in the ongoing saga of Sparrow-the-world-traveler on "Du Du Yemi" takes us to Nigeria, where our hero wins over another sexy girl for calypso.

"Pan Tuner" is a nice tribute to the unsung hero who adjusts the steel band drums, with some vocal scatting and nice piano riffing underneath. "Soca Man" shows he's paying attention to the new musical developments in Trinidad -- and maybe feeling a little heat from a younger generation, too, with the refrain of "I am not a soca man."

The songs always end up being longer (time-wise) than they feel when you're listening to them, a pretty good sign that Sparrow's music is still vibrant, despite a few signs of fraying around the edges. Volume Three may not be as revelatory as others in the excellent Ice series, but it's another essential collection by the artist who has defined modern calypso since the mid-'50s. ~ Don Snowden


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