Army Blues – Album #2

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Published In 1974

Following closely on the heals of it’s predecessor, this record represents a “quantum leap” in terms of overall sound. The first sounded like it was recorded in a tin can. This one sounds far better. It also panders slightly less to the mainstream the way the preceding album had. This album (and all the ones that followed) also had no vocalist. “By that time, we were trying to focus on Big Band Jazz and, frankly, he didn’t have anything in his repertoire that would have fit what we were trying to do. We were a band that could do three or four different types of engagements”, says Bob. “Walt had, by that time…a lot of things that would have more appeal to the younger set and while that was wonderful while we were doing it, we weren’t really trying to promote that on the second album”. With this one, the band sought to stretch out instrumentally…and they did just that. Again, tunes were largely chosen by committee with the aim of “mixing things up a bit” as Bob told us. The “Opener” is actually a rearrangement of “The Army Goes Rolling Along” – though you’ll barely recognize it in this context. “The Snuffy Strut” is the very first tune on a Blues record written by a member of the band. This one, as well as “Pah Doo Dah” (which features our very own Bob Smith in the intro), was written and arranged by trumpeter Tom Brown. Tom now lives in the Southern California area and has gone on to work in motion picture scoring. “I Can’t Get Started” is the old Ira Gershwin/Vernon Duke tune that Rowland “Bunny” Berigan has made a standard. Dave Nordland’s playing is just incredible. “He always did a nice job on that one”, Bob says. “I lost track of how many times we did that tune. Nordland was a total showman and audiences ate it up”. “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” is another Tom Brown arrangement – this one done specifically to feature trombonist Bill McCommon. Brown and McCommon turn the song into something quite different and it’s an excellent showpiece for McCommon’s excellent playing.

Side 2 opens with the “Laura Nyro Suite”. “That was (arranger) Ron Hickey’s idea”, Bob says. “He was in love with her stuff and always liked doing long-form medleys so he arranged this one for us. We all enjoyed it, though I do believe we took parts of this a little too fast”. The side closes out with a gorgeous Alex Smith arrangement of “Lover Man”.

Audio Note: This one, too, was remastered from the original “EQ masters” that the pressing plant got to press up the records all these years ago. Again, the actual mixdown masters are long gone for whatever reason. The tapes for the other 4 albums were fairly easy to get. I simply asked for them and, given the clout that the name “Bob Smith” still garners at Fort Myer, I was able to get them. They simply grabbed them from their tape vault and brought them to the front of the building and I drove in to pick them up. This one, however, was far trickier. These tapes had actually been missing for over a decade when I obtained them. After some time and with great patience, I managed to get permission (thanks to a few individuals – Bob included) to go to the tape vault at Brucker Hall on the Army base. I went there to see what I could find. I showed up at 9:30am on a Thursday morning as instructed, I was let in, and promptly left to my own devices. What I found was not your traditional tape vault at all but a very small closet with shelving that extended almost up to the 10-foot ceiling – much like a custodial closet. There was no ladder so I had to climb around to find things. Thankfully, the shelving was very sturdy and I have always been very slim. Also, tapes were stored horizontally (as they should be) but they were two deep. That made the search significantly more arduous than it otherwise would have been. Still, I came with a goal and I was determined to find what I came for. As I searched, I found things I never thought I’d see – some things which you’ll hear later. I had just about given up when I got to the very bottom shelf nearest the door I entered. I was on my second hour in this tiny closet and I wasn’t having much fun by this time. Finally, just as I was reaching the end of that shelf, I found them: the two volumes marked “Blues Album (1974)” – one for each side of the album. I “checked out” all that I’d grabbed with the A/V personal and, with drummer Bruce Baldwin’s help, got them all out to my car. I left with about 8 reels that day in total – all in great condition. None of the reels I found had been handled in a very long time and, because of that, weren’t subjected to the abuse that the other taped I’d obtained had been.

As I’d done with the others, I immediately put them in the mail to Sonicraft – the very best audio transfer company in the world – and hoped for the best. Two weeks later, I had high-resolution DVD’s of the tapes and I got to work. What I found was, by and large, really good. The tapes still sounded great. There was one small problem with one of the songs on the first tape (obviously due to mishandling many years ago) but it was fixable. These tapes already sounded great so all that was left for me to do was sonically “even them out” a bit. That took all of 3 hours (not long at all by my standards) and the results are here. Enjoy! P.S.: The “Laura Nyro Suite” is 13:44 so downloading it will require some patience. It’s amazing, though, so it’s totally worth it.  (Ed)

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