“This collection is indispensable” by Blues & Rhythm

The islands in question are U.S. Virgin Islands, unincorporated American territories. ‘Quelbe’ is the local music, like both goombay in The Bahamas and mento in Jamaica, related to calypso, with which they all mixed when the latter began to spread out across the Caribbean from its Trinidad Base. ‘Virgin Isle Country Dance’ by ‘Archie Thomas With St Croix Orchestra’ is a fine example of this fusion, with wayward saxophone snaking its way over a driving backing. Lloyd Prince Thomas recorded two albums in New York in 1956/7, cashing in on Harry Belafonte’s popularity with calypso, and the titles on this collection come from albums often recorded for tourists.
Bill Fleming (affine vocalist who is also present here as trumpeter with The La Motta Brothers Virgin Island Orchestra who supply on his own tracks and those of The Mighty Zebra), Lloyd Prince Thomas and The Fabulous McClevertys have the largest share of the 45 songs, whilst The Mighty Zebra, born in Grenada bit raised in Trinidad, lived in The Virgin Islands for most of the ‘50s and has six numbers recorded for RCA Victor subsidiary label Vik; veteran Trinidadian calypsonian Duke Of Iron also lived in The Virgin Islands for a spell and has one title from an obscure ten inch release. The remaining performances are by Archie Thomas, Alwyn Richards and two ‘unknown’.
The main themes of the songs are women – usually dealt with in a ‘double entendre’ – and voodoo, supplying an exotic ‘frisson’ for the tourists, no doubt; both CDs open with a version of ‘Rookombay’, and other titles such as ‘Obeah Man’ and ‘Voodoo woman’ are included. There are, of course, topical items such as Zebra’s ‘We Like Ike’ and The Fabulous McCleverty’ ‘Don’t Blame It On Elvis’, which is a comment on the furore surrounding the King’s hip-shaking. ‘Hindu Calypso’ is quite astonishing, ‘Breakfast in A Flying Saucer’ is silly, and even the more expected performances like ‘Brown Skin Girl’ and Chicken gumbo’ are well worth a listen.
Frémeaux’s series of reissues of vintage Caribbean music continues to throw up obscure gems. As with earlier releases, this collection is indispensable if your interests lie at all in this direction.