Various Artists - Total Exotica – As Dug By Lux And Ivy, [Righteous/Cherry Red - 2020]
Total Exotica is the latest in the ongoing Lux & Ivy compilation series- that find respected music journalist Dave Henderson crate-digging for obscure 45’s from the ’50s & ’60s. It’s a double CD affair taking in thirty-nine tracks- and certainly, for the first disc, the focuses is squarely on Exotica/ ethnic tinged easy listening. The second disc often moves away from the firm and set exotica path into more general 50’s easy listening, but I’d say on the whole it’s another worthy addition to this great compilation series.
The two-CD release is presented in a clear jewel case. It features an eight-page booklet that has this rather wonderful retro illustration of a group of 1950’s folk driving around a sunken boat. Inside we find a short write up about the Exotica genre, plus a nice selection of tropical album cover art, as well as basic track credits- though sadly no release dates for any of the tracks. Overall, it’s on par with the packaging for the other releases in this series- but I do love the cover artwork.
The first disc is subtitled ‘ Island Life’, and of the two discs this is certainly the most Exotica focused, with some darts into world music tinged easy listening too over the CD's twenty tracks. This disc features a good selection of genre classic artists like Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Yma Sumac- with well-picked tracks from each of those. But equally, we get a good selection of lesser-known/ more obscure fare – like the eastern promise tinged horn meets swooning orchestration & tropical jiving vibe and keys of Alex Strodal’s “ Pagan Love Song”. Or the wavering 'n' warbling female singing meets topically marching- yet mysterious vibes and percussion of Ethel Azama’s “Green Fire”. We have the often manic weaving flute, trip-trapping bongo drums, and warbling ‘n’ chant male vocalising of Augie Colon “Tabu”. Or the mellow twanging Hawaiian guitars, gentle orchestration swells, slow jaunting rhythms, and occasional lonesome harmonica touches of Leo Addeo’s “Adventures In Paradise”. Or topping off the disc in fine bright jaunting fashion we find Elisabeth Waldo’s “Dance Of The Nustas” with its blend of high ‘n’ calling female vocalising, whistling -yet- reedy pipe brightness, and playful harp pluck ‘n’ vibe dart.
The second disc is subtitled ‘Bachelor Pad Jazzotica’, and this features nineteen tracks. The tracks on this disc are largely more playful-to-light jazzy big band easy listening fare- sure there are still examples of pure exotica from the Baxter and Denny, but the whole tropical/ ethnic percussion/ bird call sound is diluted or bypassed. Though that’s not to say it’s not a worthy/ enjoyable disc- we kick off jiving ‘n’ jaunting horns meets big band sassiness of Mel Henke “The Twisters” with suggestive female talking on and twisting screws sound effects on. There’s the twanging ‘n’ rounding ethic string meets bounding double bass groove of Ahmed Abdul Malik’s “Oud Blues”. Or the slightly Hawaiian meets jazzy guitar runs of Les Paul’s “Clouds”, or the ethnic tip, top, n ring, meets marching horn ‘n’ warbling flute of Eden Ahbez’s “La Mar” which is topped off with dramatic male spoken word about exotic island adventures.
I’d say don’t go into Total Exotica, expecting a totally pure and distilled Exotica comp- because you won’t get it. Yes, the first disc is very much focused on the genre, but the second is much more varied in its scope/ wider easy listening genre selection. Roger Batty