Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Inevitably, there were a few patty wisecracks at The Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston, last Saturday night as Shirley McLean launched her second album.
However, what McLean serves up on the 11-track set - the artwork for which uses Jamaica's national colours liberally - is a filling, 'reggaerised' remake of songs by the late Patti Page.
When her performance time came to cap off the launch of Sweetest Jamaican PATTI, McLean said she had conceptualised the project in 2009 and started in 2010, "one song at a time".
"It was very hard," McLean said, before diverting from the album's content to do the song of thanks and praise, Through It All. Among the album's 11 tracks are You Belong To Me, Changing Partners, Butterflies (featuring Tanto Metro), Sweet Charlotte and Doggie in the Window.
Host for the launch, Tony 'TY' Young, promised a launch with a difference and, with the inclusion of live and recorded congratulations and tributes from friends and family, as well as Fae Ellington's hilariously serious contextualisation of the album, it was.
It was striking that the tributes were as much about McLean's personality as about her singing.
Angela Chaplain, principal of Vauxhall High School, laid claim to knowing McLean for 45 years and so was able to recall her dancing 'gangster style' in high school. Chaplain noted, as did other persons who paid homage, that McLean is a professional accountant, at the same time warning musicians that they should do more than one thing to earn a living.
Donna Durrant spoke to the choice between music and accounting, saying that once she asked McLean why she had not done music more, as it would pay higher. "She said she had started a family and the day to day of accounting was much more stable," Durrant said.
Family was involved, with her son Gavin (who performs as Gavinchi) giving his mother a hug and daughter Shauna-Kaye, singing as one of the harmony vocals trio. Twins Monique and Shanique, who are in Canada, ended the recorded tributes, which included Marcia Lewis (New Jersey, USA), Thomas (Germany) and Soraia (Brazil). Earlier, McLean's husband, broadcaster Owen 'OB' Brown, had started off the evening.
Ellington pointed out that Sweetest Jamaican PATTI is being launched in the year that Patti Page died (January 1).
"As far back as I can remember, I heard my mother and grandmother singing the Patti Page songs, Tennessee Waltz and Doggie in the Window," Ellington said. But that was just the start of the memories, as Ellington gave a graphic description of the Telefunken radio (powered by a 30-shilling battery and complete with a blue wire for the aerial and a ground wire), with the homes which had electricity equipped with Murphy radios.
As they had short-, medium- and long-wave, Ellington said, listeners could pick up a station in Florida, one in Russia and another in Ecuador, among others.
Ellington went through a number of names from the period, some of them from overseas (Doris Day, Skeeter Davis, The Beatles) and many from Jamaica (Shelia Rickards, Totlyn Jackson, Hortense Ellis, The Gaylettes), adding the jukebox and sound system to radio as the technology which carried the music.
BUILDING ON A LEGACY
"Shirley, you are building on top of what has already been placed there," Ellington pointed out. "We are not islands on our own. We work together as communities and nations."
Then there were the venues - Sombrero Club, Cloud Nine and Baby Grand on Half-Way Tree Road, Silver Slipper, Rhapsodic and Glass Bucket.
"I hear say when you go to Keg in broad daylight, it black, it black!" Ellington said, to laughter. On Red Hills Road, there were Tit for Tat and Stables and, after running through more names (with a few suggestions from the audience), Ellington related that time to the present. "Fiction? That's a fiction to the reality we lived!" she said.
After a dance to one of the tracks, with the band on the stand, McLean started with the first track on the album, One of Us, following with Changing Partners. She noted the pedigree of the musicians and named some of the producers as she did the songs, Boris Gardiner responsible for You Belong to Me. Old Cape Cod was led off by the harmony singers and McLean ended with Butterflies (produced by Wayne Armond), for which she was joined by a jolly Tanto Metro.
And even as she presented Sweetest Jamaican PATTI, McLean seemed to have an eye for her third full-length set. "My next project will be a gospel album," McLean said, after doing Through It All.