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The Complete Blue Cat Years

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Album Review

The Ad Libs only ever scored one smash hit, the bounding "The Boy from New York City," but their jazz-inflected songwriting style was unique enough to set them somewhat apart from the droves of post-doo wop R&B bands popping up in the early '60s. The Complete Blue Cat Recordings is another extensive "from the vaults"-style collection from reissue label Real Gone Music, exhaustively combing the archives to unearth a wealth of rarities from this mostly uncelebrated group. Of course their biggest hit is here, in four versions including an instrumental variation and different alternate takes. Other singles that didn't make waves that big — like "I'm Just a Down Home Girl" and the Ellie Greenwich-penned "He Ain't No Angel" — also showcase Mary Ann Thomas' lead vocals bedded by her all-male backup singers. This arrangement of female lead and male backing vocals was less common in the Red Bird/Blue Cat roster, and had scored hits for enough early-'60s vocal groups to inspire the formerly all-male band (first known as the Creators) to add Thomas and regroup as the Ad Libs. Despite the fact that their most successful tunes came out of this new arrangement, group leader and primary songwriter John Taylor still takes the lead on tracks like the sock-hopping "Johnny My Boy" and the wistful yodel of "Oo-Wee Oh Me Oh My." The majority of The Complete Blue Cat Recordings is made up of previously unreleased material, including several fully realized studio songs that never saw the light of day and seven tracks from a 1964 a cappella demo. Much like other archival digs on Real Gone Music from the Red Bird Records vault, this collection includes several unlisted tracks of in-studio recording session chatter and between-song crosstalk. While these bonus tracks are rarely much more than a one-time listen, the behind-the-scenes intimacy gives humanity and personality to the often anonymous-feeling voices behind the bygone music. The Ad Libs were lesser players in their era, and parts of this collection speak to their unorganized scramble for another hit. The never-issued track "The Slime" (potentially a new gutter-inspired dance craze?) is particularly suspect, if amusing in hindsight. Even though the multiple versions and repeated songs get a little repetitive, this collection works more as a completist's anthology than a best-of package. Casual listeners might not find a lot to return to here, but for anyone invested in the early days of the girl group era or the Red Bird story, this is a rare glimpse into a deeper layer of that history.


Formed: 1964 in Newark, NJ

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

The Ad Libs were an early-'60s vocal group from New Jersey whose female lead vocals and male-voiced backing prefigured the jazzy doo wop singing style of several later groups, including Manhattan Transfer. They scored a major hit in early 1965 with "The Boy From New York City," written by John T. Taylor, a saxophone player who had worked with various big band groups as far back as the '30s. By the early '60s, John T. Taylor had quit playing music and had turned his attention to teaching. During...
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