Over the past several years, there's been a segment of the publishing industry known as the "vanity press" - print shops specializing in self-published books by authors who would likely be quickly rejected by such prestigious New York publishing houses as Random House or Simon & Schuster.
More recently, with the advent of economic compact discs and rental recording studios, the same kind of "vanity" attitude has been popping up in the recording industry.In the past few weeks, two recordings of possibly more than passing local interest have been released: harmonica artist Danny Welton's "Summer in San Francisco," released on his own Danwell Records label, and the popular local improvisational theater troupe Quick Wits' "Instant Comedy" recording on the OBT label (named for its home base, the Off Broadway Theatre).
DANNY WELTON WITH LAURINDO ALMEIDA; "Summer In San Francisco," (Danwell Records). * * 1/2
Danny Welton has something of a local following, due largely to his guest appearance a couple of years ago at one of Eugene Jelesnik's Salt Lake Philharmonic pops concerts in Abravanel Hall.
As a performer, Welton goes back a generation or two. His theme song from the 1952 movie "Ruby Gentry" was a major hit in its time.
Welton is a superb harmonica player, drawing sounds out of the instrument that few others do. And I'd even be inclined to give this recording an extra star - except for the fact that when I first heard it I thought "My, this sounds awfully familiar."
Well, guess what? In 1995, Welton released another disc (also on the Danwell label, of course). Both recordings have 11 tracks - of which 10 tracks are exactly the same titles on both discs.
The only difference between the two is that the earlier one, called "The Naked Sea" (showcased with a pastoral cover of a calm sea at sunset), contains Welton's version of a golden oldie, "Beyond the Sea." The newer recording, with what looks like a computerized graphic of a cable car heading across the beach on a collision course with the Golden Gate Bridge, is "Summer in San Francisco."
Can you guess what the first track on this recording is? It's not "Ebb Tide" or "Stranger on the Shore," which are two of the 10 tunes found on both discs.
Another oddity here is that one of the songs (on both little platters) is "Girl From Ipanema Beach" - which is better known as simply "The Girl From Ipanema" . . . without the "beach."
These quibbles aside, I admit that "Summer in San Francisco" is a beautiful recording . . . in an "elevator music" sort of way.
Both feature the late Laurindo Almeida on acoustic guitar. And there's another odd connection, here. While the 1995 recording is dedicated to Almeida (along with a note explaining that he died shortly after the recordings were completed), the 1997 version also states that "sadly, he died of cancer shortly before the release of this CD."
Either one of the recordings would be fine additions for those who enjoy soft instrumentals.
One decided "plus" in having Danny Welton's music on CD is that, unlike the audience for his pops concert appearance, you don't have to cringe your way through his vulgar stand-up comedy routine. He's a terrific entertainer when he sticks to his harmonica, but his schtick is pretty bad.
VARIOUS ARTISTS; "Quick Wits: Instand Comedy Recorded live at the Off Broadway Theatre," (OBT Records). * *
This 15-track recording is a very mixed bag that will probably appeal only to those who appreciate off-the-wall - and off-the-cuff - humor.
The songs on the disc are a little more successful than the live comedy routines, but only slightly. Unless you're familiar with the Quick Wits gang, you may not understand what's going on in some of the comedy routines. Much of the "improv" comedy itself is visual and only those in the audience at the time this was being recorded will have the slightest inkling of what is happening on stage.
It must be pretty funny, though, because everyone is laughing.
The songs, which were also recorded as unrehearsed, on-the-spot numbers, are . . . well . . . very spontaneous.
The harmony sounds comes off like the Mrs. Miller Chorale, and you're not going to find the sparkling wit of songs like those by Cole Porter or the Gershwins. The lyrics here weren't carefully handpicked while laboring over a piano. They were grabbed out of thin air, fast and furiously under the pressure of a Quick Wits audience.
"Cabana Boy" or "Slurpee (It's What I Need)" won't be ending up on the Top 100 chart anytime soon.
This do-it-themselves recording just doesn't have broad appeal, outside the improv troupe's loyal followers.
Maybe a video would have worked better than a compact disc.
The recordings' covers have a "home grown" touch. Printed in black-and-white on fairly heavy card stock, each cover has been personally colored (with felt-tip markers) by members of the troupe. Mine was done in patriotic red, white and blue by longtime Quick Wits comic Eric Jensen.