Review: Dwight Townsend “The Dwight Stuff”

Dwight Townsend “The Dwight Stuff”

13 Jun, 2011 Kelly O'Neil

Get out the bubble makers.  Dwight Townsend’s collection of Love Ballads, Instrumentals and other Musications is an aural trip down memory lane to the songs of yesteryear when young people fell in love and really meant it, couples knew how to tastefully dance to orchestras employing real musicians and the family would gather to watch “The Lawrence Welk Show”.  Featuring superb sound quality courtesy of award-winning producer Phil York, excellent arrangements by Don Zimmers and flawless performances by members of the Dallas Symphony, Townsend’s songs are given life and wings to soar on this timeless collection.

Half of the songs on the album, as the title suggests are instrumentals including the opening number, “Lesley Brooke.”  This bossa nova builds in orchestration before a stark melody in the upper register of the piano takes the lead.  The melody continues to be passed around between the different string, saxophone and brass sections, like a high school jazz band piece broken up by a squeaky clean improvised saxophone solo.  A more exciting take on the high school jazz band formula is “Funky Junk” where the bass guitar opens joined by a dynamic piano glissando before the saxophone and brass dialogue ensues with obvious forzandos.  Then an electronic keyboard takes over the melody and hence adds the funky flavor.

Experimenting a bit with different sounds, Townsend casts the lead voice in “Happy-Go-Lucky” as a person whistling.  This delightful number features excellent blending between harmonized whistling, a whistling and guitar duet, and the whistling with full big band back up.  The enjoyably cartoonish “Clowning Around” features a pipe lead alternating the melody with strings and clarinet accompanied by a steady backbeat and xylophone.  A fun mash-up of styles is heard in “Lagniappe” where the tuba and clarinet jovially play a New Orleans zydeco melody and then swap out for a contrasting new musical idea heralded by the alto saxophone making for a delightfully interesting little ditty.

The English horn is given the lead in “Sonora Sunrise” but is interrupted by a high pitched piccolo and fife combination that are a bit grating.  It detracts from the overall light incidental traveling music feel.  However, a nice touch of wind chimes is added to the bass and piano in the bridge.  The treble double reed is again featured in “Pina Colada” with an “ahhing” choir in the background and bells giving this a retro feel of closing credits from a late 1970s movie soundtrack.

“Vero Beach” the coastal Florida town where Townsend resides, aptly opens with ocean sounds quietly fading as the strings, guitar and reeds enter.   Subtle crashing waves are still heard between phrases taking the listener on a relaxing stroll on a breezy shore at sunset.  Another ballad evoking a clear picture of serenity is “Carmen”.  The slow, lush strings are the perfect setting for two new lovers ambling through a park on a sunny spring day with cherry blossoms falling all around them.

The vocal pieces on the album are more hit or miss but overtly appealing to any fans of Mel Torme, Matt Monroe or Robert Goulet.  The best storytelling songs on the album are “I’m Coming Home” about a reformed playboy coming home to the girl he left behind, with fittingly dated lyrics and “Curriculum Vitae”.  The latter abandons the piano accompaniment and instead takes on a more country-western feel with bass, guitar and drums expounding upon the straights of a working man in his business suit who would much rather write and sing his songs.  In keeping with the happy golden years vibe of the album, the majority of vocal performances feature a rich syrupy baritone enveloped in lush strings as in “I See You Everywhere I Go” and “If I Were You.”  The rhymes are easy, cliché and sweetly crooned by a full back up choir.

Sometimes the melodies are drab and uninteresting as in “Someday Somehow”.    This duet between a breathy male vocalist and Broadway belting female never firmly establishes a discernable tune.  Both singers have excellent tonal centers and perform well but the song never develops into anything worthwhile and thus is a boring lull in the album.  Another tune that does not gel well is “How Could I Think I’ve Been in Love Before”.  The sparse instrumentation gives minimal support to the vocals with the back up choir only adding to the mash up, not helping.  On top of this the ending is gregariously ridiculous.  Not to knock big endings, because sometimes they can be extremely fulfilling as in “You Are My Last Love”.  The vocal performance in this tune is a highlight of the album and grows throughout the song until it culminates into a huge standing ovation finale.

The Dwight Stuff will truly be appreciated by fans of that particular bygone era.  The vocal deliveries, lyrics and instrumentation all do justice to the style and the overall mix is stellar.  Townsend has done a fine job of breathing new life into an old art form.

Review by Kelly O’Neil
Rating 4 stars (out of 5)