Saturday, November 08, 2008

These Are Our Flowers - Lil' Blair & the Violinaires (Quartet Boyz 2008)

Lil’ Blair & the Violinaires
These Are Our Flowers
Quartet Boyz Records 2008

At the conclusion of These Are Our Flowers, singer Titus “Lil’ Blair” Stallworth explains that the CD’s title refers to the testimonial quality of the songs on the album. That is, the new Violinaires' cover of these career-defining songs by their forebears are metaphorical “flowers” of tribute to two of its most important members.

Specifically, he means Robert Blair, lead vocalist of Detroit’s Fantastic Violinaires, who before his death in 2001 knighted Stallworth his “vocal successor” and cemented it with the endearing title, “Lil’ Blair". The group is also laying musical flowers at the gravesite of Isaiah “Lil’ Shot” Jones, a founding Violinaires member who stayed active with the group until his passing in the late 1990s.

The new Violinaires aggregation – Sedritz Strickland, Danny Boone, Rico Camp, Ed Sutton and Stallworth – retains the distinctive falsetto harmony that marked the group’s Checker sessions of the 1960s and early 1970s, when Blair and Jones were at the height of their popularity. Many of these classics are revisited here, including the hits “Children Are You Ready,” the doo-woppy “Three Pictures,” “You Don’t Know,” and a high-octane version of “Old Time Religion.” The group even reprises “Salt of the Earth,” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ paean to the common man that the Rolling Stones, as fans of the Violinaires, encouraged the quartet to record in 1969.

Although Lil' Blair has the strongest tie to the former Violinaires, each current member is a veteran quartet singer. Their respective resumes include contributions to top groups such as the Brooklyn Allstars and the Pilgrim Wonders of Toledo. While as soloists some members are stronger than others, the collective's tight, high harmonies are always spot on.

These Are Our Flowers is another example of the fine production that Dwight Gordon’s Quartet Boyz label gives his roster of quartets. Some indie quartet projects suffer from muffled sound or overbearing musicianship. Not here.

I would have preferred to hear Lil' Blair's explanation at the beginning of the CD rather than at the end so I could better appreciate the album's intent. At the same time, I know others want their CDs to start with music, especially announcers who have precious time to wade through spoken word to get to the crux of a project. Regardless, the songs on These Are Our Flowers will bring back memories of the Golden Age of the Fabulous Violinaires.

Three of Four Stars

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