The Salsoul Orchestra
Reviewed on this page:
Nice N' Naasty - Christmas Jollies - Cuchi-Cuchi -
Magic Journey - Goody Goody - Up The Yellow Brick Road - Olé Olé
The Philadelphia-based Salsoul label was primarily an outlet for the smooth, orchestral disco of producer/arranger/composer/vibraphonist Vincent
Montana Jr., and when his band weren't backing up other artists (including Charo) they recorded on their own. Montana got his start doing
sessions for Philly soul producers, and he adapted that lush style to disco, adding Latin motifs and textures. When he's on, he's
terrific, but unfortunately most of the time he's not on, either cranking out perfunctory disco-by-numbers or reaching beyond his subgenre
and falling on his face.
Jahsonic's Meta Soul site contains a lot of useful information on the Orchestra and Montana's other work, and
Montana also has a personal site.
Other Vincent Montana appearances on this site:
The Salsoul Orchestra (1975)
Montana was hellbent on building a brand name: song titles include "Salsoul Hustle" and "Salsoul Rainbow."
Nice 'N' Naasty (1976)
Their second record is made up mostly of Montana originals, including the unstoppably
funky title tune, and it's concise, with most tracks clocking in around four minutes.
Montana doesn't use much percussion aside from the
usual trap drums and congas, but his ties with Latin music surface in his propensity for clave syncopation, and on the raucous closing
"Ritzy Mambo." The cooing female choruses and Charlie's Angels strings are over the top, and there are too many corny tossoffs
("Standing And Waiting On Love"), but there's also plenty of fine musicianship:
Norman Harris gives a fearsome display on "It's Good For The Soul," playing chunky rhythm guitar, then laying
down a lively, lyrical jazz solo.
Montana's love for kitsch leads to a surprisingly digestible ripoff of Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" ("Salsoul: 3001") but also to
an irredeemably bathetic medley of Paul Williams' "We've Only Just Begun" and the ultimate touchstone of 70s dreck, Morris Albert's
The large cast of musicians includes tireless drummer Earl Young, Gordon Edwards, Crusher Bennett,
Andy Gonzalez and Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey.
Christmas Jollies (1976)
All right, how much can you expect from a disco Christmas album?
Though there's nothing unusual or startling here, you could hardly expect there to be.
It opens with a six-minute "Little Drummer Boy," by which point you've
either run screaming for the exits, or settled in for the silly sleigh ride. Producer/arranger Montana delivers precise orchestrations
with occasional funky touches like clavinet, and ably fuses together different songs into coherent suites - the "Christmas Medley"
comprises thirteen titles - though it's not exactly an ambitious target. There are a couple of Montana originals, the "La Bamba" knockoff
"Christmas Time" and the nursery rhyme (children's choir and all) "There's Someone Who's Knocking."
Within the disco context, my problem with Montana is his tendency
to keep his singers in the background - belted vocals can do a lot to humanize a metronomic dance track - and this album is no exception:
the individual singers have about as much personality as the individual violinists.
Most of the musicians from Nice 'N Naasty reappear; Harris is featured on guitar on the closing "Silent Night."
Cuchi-Cuchi (Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra: 1977)
If Charo could sing even a little teeny bit, this would have been a classic album. Montana outdoes himself with smooth funk ("Cookie Jar"), lively dance ("You're Just The Right Size") and
crazy flights of camp (a moderate salsa arrangement of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend The Night Together"). The arrangements have clever offbeat touches (the
spectacular bass runs on "Speedy Gonzalez"). And of course, Charo's bubbly persona - she became famous mostly as a Tonight Show guest - is a continual guilty pleasure. But Christ, she's such a bad singer! Her sense of pitch is vague, and her
breathy voice continually slides into half-whispered spoken word - at first it's funny but after a while it's downright irritating. Anyway, thanks to Montana and the musicians the record's
better than it has any right to be, probably a more impressive demonstration of his talents than any of the Orchestra's other records.
Magic Journey (1977)
A haphazard hash of styles, only occasionally hitting the mark - implying that Montana was bored with his old formula, but didn't know what to replace it with.
There are several tacky orchestrations of unimpressive easy-listening tunes (Montana's "Magic Bird Of Fire," "Theme From Montreal Olympics, 1976").
There's a disco remake of the Cuban chestnut "Guantanamera."
There's a pointless, if faithful, instrumental recreation of Earth Wind & Fire's "Getaway."
Worst of all, the incredibly annoying 50's retro-kitsch "Short Shorts" (by Bob Gaudio, no less).
But it's not all bad: "It's A New Day" and the grandiose instrumental "Journey To Phoebus" (written and arranged by Pasquate Spino) are crowdpleasers in Montana's trademark disco style.
Best of all is the killer dance tune "Runaway" featuring Loleatta Holloway on vocals (recently remade by Masters At Work
My CD has a bonus track, "Take Some Time Out," which is an uninvolving dance number with an overly repetitive bass vamp (think "Fly Robin Fly") and embarassingly simple-minded lyrics.
A Dance Fantasy Inspired By Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (Montana: 1978)
Montana must have been inspired by the huge success of Meco's disco version of the Star Wars theme. Naturally, Meco did a version of the Close Encounters theme, too, and I'll soon be reporting on whose was better: only at Wilson & Alroy, my friends!
Goody Goody (Goody Goody: 1978)
A faux band Montana cooked up to back his daughter, Denise. Her voice is thin, but she seems to think she's
Ella Fitzgerald, and her belting and scatting is almost indescribably irritating.
Apparently Montana recognized her vocal limitations, because he leaves long instrumental passages on each track - unfortunately,
he doesn't fill them up with anything. In stark contrast to his lavish Orchestra work, the sound is savagely stripped down to a bare,
mechanical rhythm section with no strings, no backing vocals, almost no horns: the introduction of a tambourine is treated as a big deal
("Bio-Rhythms"). A remake of the twee Johnny Mercer standard "Goody Goody" is the closest thing to the standard Salsoul sound.
I'm guessing either he was trying to copy Moroder-style Eurodisco, or he bet someone he could write and record a whole album in one day.
So all the pressure rests on the keboardist (unnamed, like the rest of the musicians, but I'm guessing it's Vincent), who constantly solos, mostly on electric piano
or synth, but the only compelling results are on the "You Know How Good It Is," which morphs into high quality small combo jazz.
Produced, arranged and written by Montana. (DBW)
How Deep Is Your Love (The Salsoul Strings: 1978)
All covers: some repeats ("We've Only Just Begun") along with such pleasures as Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" and the Bee Gees' title track.
Up The Yellow Brick Road (1979)
By now Montana had decided it was much more efficient to give familiar material disco arrangements than to write new songs, and there's
not a single original on the LP. The theme, such as it is, is songs from movies, so there's a lengthy West Side Story medley that's
utterly predictable ("America"/"Maria"/"Somewhere"/"Tonight"). The disco take on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts
Club Band" is a flop, but he deserves some sort of credit for picking a song so unsuitable for Salsoul treatment.
Tackiest moment of an incredibly tacky album is the medley of "Fiddler On The Roof"/"Hava Nagilah"/"Theme From Exodus" - sort of
Judaism's Greatest Hits.
The closest thing to a saving grace is that Montana spotlights his vibes playing on several tracks, in both pensive ("Evergreen") and
uptempo ("Ease On Down The Road") modes, and his supple improvisations are practically the only nourishing moments to be found.
Street Sense (1979)
Somehow Montana lost control of his group, and this record was produced by Tom Moulton and arranged by Thor
Baldursson. Earl Young seems to be practically the only holdover from Montana's version of the band.
Olé Olé (Charo: 1979)
Montana wasn't involved in this either; produced by Moulton and arranged by John Davis, with Baldursson on keyboards. Painfully kitschy - there's a version of the "Love Boat Theme," winking at Charo's frequent guest shots on the program - but even more painfully dull: Davis's title track creaks through its eight-minute running time with forced jollity; "Hot Love" aims for the lighthearted smut of "You're Just The Right Size," but misses. And naturally, Charo's wavery half-vocals are no better than before ("Stay With Me").
The one point of interest is a disco arrangement of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto De Aranjuez," which has some of the sweeping range of Alec R. Costandinos; the tune is instrumental, with Charo listed as lead guitarist. Charo eventually blossomed into a flamenco
guitarist, as demonstrated on her 1994 opus Guitar Passion; see her fan site for more details.
Heat It Up (1982)
Produced by Patrick Adams, with a completely new lineup including vocalist Jocelyn Brown. Includes a cover of the Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New."
Heavy Vibes (Montana Orchestra: 1983)
Montana struck back on his own Philly Sound Works label with a collection of originals (title tune) and pop covers (Christopher Cross's yacht rocker "Ride Like The Wind").
Sut/l Vibes (Montana Sextet: 1987)
Smooth Jazz covers: "Wave"; "That's What Friends Are For"; Gershwin's "I Can't Get Started" and so on.
This One's For You (Vincent Montana Jr. with The Original Philadelphia Rhythm Section: 2000)
Mostly Great American Songbook ("Smoke Gets In Your Eyes") with some more recent tunes ("The Way We Were").
Montana's been actively repackaging and re-releasing his work in recent years, and I'm not sure whether these tracks are new: for example, is this cover of "Another Star" the same one that's on Sut/l Vibes?