After eight years and four records with Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, vocalist Robert “Big Sandy” Williams has decided to (temporarily) set that band’s rootsy Western swing-abilly on the back burner and pay homage to two of his heretofore untended passions: early West Coast doo-wop and honkin’ R&B. And while few who have heard the Sand-man wrap his creamy, elastic tenor around a croonful, Tommy Duncan-esque swinger would doubt Big Sandy’s pipe-ability, the resulting disc is a collection of such exquisite, understated passion as to suggest that Williams’ main gig has merely been an exercise in denial.
With the aid of veteran local heroes the Calvanes (a fully-equipped vocal combo), pianists Carl “Sonny” Leyland (of the Fly-Rite Boys) and Skip Edwards (Dwight Yoakam band), and the raspy counterpoint of guest vocalist Dewey Terry (of the Don & Dewey duo, which originally waxed “I’m Leavin’ It All Up To You”), Big Sandy cruises through sixteen tracks — fifteen extraordinary chestnuts and a self-penned ringer — alternating brassy bravado on the R&B and heartbreaking vulnerability on the teen-angst arias of doo-wop.
The sound is bright, spare and immediate, all the while evocative of the music’s time and place. Ron Holden’s bleak “Love You So” paints a desolate, nocturnal cityscape which fairly bathes the listener in the cool pool of a 3 a.m. streetlamp’s light. Meanwhile, the Cufflinks’ marvelous “Guided Missiles” embraces the late-’50s straddling of the wonder and potential devastation of then-incomprehensible rocketry with eloquent, lost-love imagery.
As an unimaginable bonus, the recently-deceased Richard Berry (the sculptor of “Louie Louie”) is represented by loving treatments of two of “Louie’s” siblings — “Have Love, Will Travel”, and the even dumber “Yama Yama Pretty Mama”. Yikes! Anyway, as good as Big Sandy has been at dialing up West Texas memories, it sounds like his heart has been waiting at El Monte Legion Stadium.