Amral's Trinidad Cavaliers Steel Orchestra
If travel agencies come up with their own advertisement jingles nowadays, they consider it quite an achievement. After all, jingles are a good way for any company to gain an edge over their competitors as long as they are catchy and, once heard on the radio or on TV, hopefully stay in the minds of potential customers. But have you ever heard of a travel agency that owns not just the trademark to a jingle but in fact can hark back on a whole band that even features the travel agency‘s name in the title? Well, Trinidad‘s most famous travel agency Amral‘s, still in business and prospering since 1967 onwards, was able to capture the spirit of the times twofoldly, by gaining access to a loyal band, as it was usual back at these times for other companies, and by presenting the calypso and steel drum sounds to the United States. In order to advertise Trinidad as a vacation country and making the U.S. familiar with the refreshing sounds of the Caribbean, Amral's Trinidad Cavaliers Steel Orchestra used the common trick by giving the audience what they want and then twist the result in an original way: on this LP, several smash hits such as Rock Around The Clock and In The Mood are imported from the U.S. and then re-imported to the U.S. by blending new-fashioned Rock‘n Roll songs with the Calypso sounds of Trinidad. The final outcome was highly successful, and even today the LP is not seen as a weird niche record, but in fact has become a valuable addition to many a DJ‘s record collection – for example, one of Tito Puente‘s signature tunes, Oye-Com Va, featured as track 4 on Steel Vibrations, is used by the Beastie Boys on their 1999 song Body Movin‘ as a backing melody, and electronic mash-up maestro The Gaslamp Killer is also fond of using their music in his creations. Another interesting addition is Hava Nagila, never been available on record before in a steel drum version, but a surprisingly fitting rendition of this old time classic.
The whole record sounds crisp and clear from an audiophile standpoint, and every steel drum out of several can be pinpointed in the décor of the mix. The only other instruments on the release consist of soft drums. There are also two vocal tracks on the LP, the melancholic Love Story which adds quite a heavy tone to the excessively bright and good humored roster, and the almost mandatory interpretation of Delilah, both performed by the otherwise unknown Marilyn Narine.
As it can happen with monothematic LP‘s like this one, the listener might actually overdose on this release, possibly becoming fed up with the renditions of several classics that are presented in a unique way indeed, but which shortly after listening to the first two or three songs wear thin and can cause a certain languidness due to the huge amount of steel drums on every single song. This is by no means the Steel Orchestra‘s fault, but rather lies in the nature of feature records altogether that focus on one specific kind of presentation. So this first LP out of three subsequent releases is best enjoyed in small doses or as a throw-in to playlists for a warm summer evening or even the occasional gym playlist, since some of the songs are quite dynamic and up-tempo. Recommended in smaller doses.
Exotica Review 002: Amral's Trinidad Cavaliers Steel Orchestra – Steel Vibrations (1973). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at AmbientExotica.com.