December 2001

The Calvanes - In Harmony
HighTone HI08130
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Ah, the good old days. You remember them, right? That was when men were men, and they knew how to write and record music. (Think "American Graffiti," "Happy Days," and Alan Freed.) To some, the music industry has been on a steady downhill slide since the late 1950s. And after listening to In Harmony by the Calvanes, you might just have to agree.

The Calvanes have been recording their brand of doo-wop based rock and roll for over 45 years (they first recorded for the Los Angeles’ Doctor Records label in 1955), so they should know how it’s done. And In Harmony shows how finely honed they’ve become. The interaction of the four vocalists (leader Herman Pruitt, Bobby Adams, Fred Willis and Jimmy Corbitt) is uncanny. If it wasn’t for the superior sound (and the fact that this is a CD), this music could have fallen out of a time capsule marked 1958 and no one would question it at all.

These four have recorded for a number of different labels, under a number of differing group names, in the mid to late '50s. But after all that hard work, and not even getting a glimpse of fame they hungered for, they decided to hang it up and get real jobs. (After all, everyone’s got to eat, right?) Then, after years off the music scene, the group reunited in 1990 and decided to try it again. And it’s as if they never left. In Harmony fields a nice selection of newly written songs, a remake of the closest thing they ever had to a "hit" ("Don’t Take Your Love From Me"), and a few West coast doo-wop standards. It all melds well, showing the group at its best.

Listen to "Mary Lou" and hear the way the background vocals mesh so smoothly with the lead. Or check out "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" for ballad work at its finest. Then, jump ahead to "Smokey Joe’s Café," and hear the Calvanes version of "Charlie Brown". Good, good stuff.

The sound given to In Harmony is head and shoulders above what this musical style has received before. While its never going to be the disc you’ll reach for to demo your system, it is solid enough. The vocals (the reason-de-arte of this disc) are clear, and solid. You can hear the two distinct tenor voices of Pruitt and Adams, along with Willis’ baritone and Corbitt’s bass, as 3-D singers, not two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. And that goes a long way on an album like this toward getting you to believe it’s real. The sax sounds real (and swings, man, it swings), as does the piano (when it’s the featured instrument, otherwise it’s only average). It’s the drums that will make you realize immediately it’s a recording; they sound indistinct, with no snap.

So the next time you get a craving to backtrack in time to an era when many things were simpler, grab a copy of In Harmony by the Calvanes, put on your bobby sox or slick back that ducktail, pop this CD into the car player, cruise on down to the drive-in, and enjoy. This is real old-fashioned music done by people who remember how to do it right. Me and the Fonz will meet you there.