Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The Avalanches - Ski Surfin'dot

The Avalanches were not different than most of the studio amalgams of the era. The usual suspects paid by the hour to play and sometimes write songs in a way that minimized studio time. The players were Al De Lory - piano, Billy Strange - guitar, Tommy Tedesco - guitar, Wayne Burdick - guitar, David Gates - bass, Hal Blaine - drums. Stan Ross recorded it at his legendary Gold Star studio. Session producer and writer of virtually all of the original songs was veteran song writer Wayne Shanklin, Jr., who had given us "Jezebel," "Primrose Lane," and "The Big Hurt."

This was a virtually dismissible release at the time - just another illustration of the way major labels tried to control what was available and on the radio while paying as little as possible for it. Aside from historical references, it has no more value forty four years later. It does seem better thought our and seems to have more chemistry, but it's just not enough to get my interest. If you are a fan of the music machine side of the business, you'll find this compelling because of the players and the quality of the tracks, but if you are looking for real bands playing real surf music, this is surely not for you.
Picks: Winter Wonderland, Canadian Sunset

Track by Track Review

Ski Surfin' dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Gimmicky faux-Hawaiian guitar adds a teenage vacation film score feel to a tepid song. Billy Strange's guitar is occasionally distorted and edgy, while the lead is tremolo warbled. The piano is kinda cool in an easy listening kind of way. The melody seems derivative of "I Wonder Who."

Winter Wonderland dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Felix Bernard and Dick Smith's classic 1934 Christmas song is played with some gusto and flair, and is as interesting as perhaps the Ventures might have done it, but surely not essential. The lead guitar is mostly intense and overdriven, give this significant edge. The hokey studio rhythm guitar holds it back. Blaine's drums rock, and this ends up being pretty cool. The soft passages with tremolo guitar and piano are actually quite nifty.

Avalanche dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Rising kettle drums, or just muddy floor toms and moody guitar bring on a Super Stocks-like song. The gimmicky slide is back, and there's cheesy organ too. The lead guitar is early fuzzy distorted. Lot's of spirit, but nothing to go back to.

Midnight Sun dot
Rock (Instrumental)

Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke's "Midnight Sun" is done with cool electric piano and a chumpy studio rhythm section. The guitar occasionally goes fuzzy, but otherwise, this is a completely dismissible track.

Along The Trail With You
Rock (Instrumental)

Light and poppy with edge. Very tasteful electric piano lead and noodly guitar over a ho-hum rhythm section. Less than stellar for sure. You won't remember it later, or be called back to it.

Sleigh Ride dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Leroy Anderson's classic Christmas song gets a perplexing arrangement. Some parts are really cool, like the electric piano lead and the energy level, while others are very so-so. It'll fit well in a holiday set alongside the Ventures.

Snowfall dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Claude Thornhill's best known tune "Snowfall" is actually a pretty number with lovely electric piano leads that roll and play gently over a ho-hum rhythm track. It's an easy enough track on the ears that you might find it soothing for those non-demanding moments when something a little better than the Muzak you're subjected to in the dentist chair are called for.

I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Ray Noble and Irving Berlin's song from the score of On The Avenue is done in a flippant and playful fashion in keeping with the original intent, despite the use of Billy Strange's fuzz. "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" is pretty darn fun.

Winter Evening Nocturne dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Winter Evening Nocturne" is a pleasant song probably more suited to an AOR arrangement than faux rock'n'roll. The tremolo guitar is attractive, while the steel is just gimmicky.

Canadian Sunset dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Canadian Sunset" is an incredible well crafted sing from the mind of Eddy Heywood. Hugo Winterhalter's version in 1956 dominated the pop charts. The Avalanches do a reasonable job converting it to faux-rock, retaining piano in the Winterhalter mold. There's even a glissando or two from Billy Strange's guitar in his signature distortion tone. Not bad.

Slalom dot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Slalom" is a tremolo tune that's OK until the cheesy keys take over. You won't return to this track because it won't strike that chord with you.

Baby, It's Cold Outside dot
Rock (Instrumental)

Frank Loesser's tune seems an odd choice except from a concept album pint of view. Its melody and feel are completely different from the rest here. It also seems uninspired from a performance point of view.