It was only a matter of time before Curb Records, the imprint of record producer (and former lieutenant governor of California) Mike Curb, turned its attention to the Mike Curb Congregation. For those who weren't around or have short memories, the Mike Curb Congregation was a large-scale singing group along lines similar to the Ray Conniff Singers but with something of a political edge, akin to the Johnny Mann Singers (remember their upbeat syndicated show Stand Up and Cheer, which aired just as Vietnam was coming to a head ...
It was only a matter of time before Curb Records, the imprint of record producer (and former lieutenant governor of California) Mike Curb, turned its attention to the Mike Curb Congregation. For those who weren't around or have short memories, the Mike Curb Congregation was a large-scale singing group along lines similar to the Ray Conniff Singers but with something of a political edge, akin to the Johnny Mann Singers (remember their upbeat syndicated show Stand Up and Cheer, which aired just as Vietnam was coming to a head and America's campuses were exploding?). The latter was more a matter of nuance that anything else, mostly thanks to Curb's concurrent efforts as head of MGM Records at the end of the 1960s to single-handedly "clean up" the music business by dropping all of the drug-oriented acts from the label -- his big signing as head of the label was the Osmonds. And it meant that the Mike Curb Congregation got to make records, including appearances on several soundtrack albums (most notably Kelly's Heroes) and covers of songs derived from several MGM soundtracks. So this 29-minute CD is a bit suspect, to say the least. But -- and this is the amazing part -- in a dorky sort of way, this disc has its merits. The group sings with more visceral passion than, say, Mitch Miller & the Gang, and has a freer approach to their work than Conniff's group ever did. What's more, they weren't afraid to display a soulfulness, and do a song with an ironic twist -- hence, here in track number seven is their magnum opus, "Burning Bridges" from Kelly's Heroes, one of the most quietly subversive movies of its era, and a tune that gave the movie an astonishingly upbeat tone, and it is worth the price of the CD by itself. They also don't do badly by "Just One Thing," the theme from City Slickers. That's the good stuff -- the rest, including "It's a Small World," and a brace of what might be considered political songs, including "If I Had a Hammer" (with drums and acoustic guitar upfront, and a tempo close to Trini Lopez's treatment), "God Bless America" (acoustic guitar out front), "America the Beautiful" (with a serious bass), "The House I Live In," "Together, a New Beginning" (Ronald Reagan's theme), and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (with electric guitar), are more of an acquired taste, since all but the Reagan theme have a serious recording somewhere that has earned the label "definitive." And then there are the plain bizarre tracks, such as "It Was a Good Time" -- anyone not familiar with this song can be forgiven; it was the abortive attempt to generate a hit song (à la "Somewhere My Love" out of "Lara's Theme") from Maurice Jarre's main theme from Ryan's Daughter, except that the tune is not remotely as appealing and the lyrics arrived at are downright appalling; leave it to the Mike Curb Congregation, a creation of MGM Records, which had more than a passing interest in the commercial fate of that soundtrack (they distributed the original recording), to try and push that hopeless piece of pop dreck on the easy listening airwaves. There's no annotation, apart from some recording credits, but the sound is excellent, and in its own strange way this CD is hard to resist as an eminently listenable (in part, at least) artifact of several eras past, and some fun songs, plus an entertaining artistic disaster to be savored in the same way that one would appreciate "Golden Throats" and other ludicrous spectacle of popular music-making. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
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Bates/Ward; Berlin; Curb; Curb/Jarre/M.; Curb/Lloyd/Shaiman; Curb/Schifrin; Hays/Seeger; Lewis/Robinson; Sherman/Sherman. Very Good. In very good packaging. Mike Curb Congregation-Best of by Mike Curb Congregation.