required listening

CD Review

SUNNY & the SUNLINERS  -  Mr Brown Eyed Soul

Big Crown (US) BC 035-CD

Should I Take You Home; Cross My Heart; The One Who’s Hurting Is You; Smile Now Cry Later; Our Day Will Come; Put Me In Jail; Forever; I Only Have Eyes For You; Get Down; Open Up Your Love Door; Give It Away; Rain Makes Me Blue; Outside Looking In; I Have No One; My Dream

Although Sunny Ozuna put together his first (Sunny & the Sunglows) group back in 1959 while still a high school attendee in San Antonio, TX, their recordings failed to make more than local noise until a hook-up with Huey Meaux and his Tear Drop label in 1963, when the guys - all of Chicano ethnicity except trumpet player, Amos Johnson Jr. - and a break through nationally with a huge hit across-the-board in the shape of their version of Joe Seneca’s ‘Talk To Me’, originally a hit (in 1958) for Little Willie John.  An album followed, after which the group name changed - for no apparent documented reason - to Sunny & the Sunliners and singles and two further albums followed on Tear Drop under that moniker.  When their contract with Meaux ended in mid-1966, Ozuna decided he had the wherewithal to form his own label, dubbed Key-Loc and it is from that period, 1966 to 1972, that the recordings here derive.  Given the origin of the bulk of the group members, their popularity in the barrios virtually went without saying and, were this cd to be based on success in that market alone, it could be dubbed ‘Sunny & the Sunliners’ Greatest Hits’ and the fact that Ozuna still performs and records - and acts! - either solo or leader of the Sunliner Band to this day, at the age of 74, his star certainly still seems to be shining at least in certain quarters, even if a post Tear Drop national breakthrough remained elusive.  it was an appearance on the ‘American Bandstand’  tv-er that led to presenter, Dick Clark, dubbing Ozuna ‘Mr Brown Eyed Soul’, the sweet soul approach of the man and the group as a whole being undeniable - just witness their first Key-Loc 45, ‘Smile Now Cry Later’.  The sleeve notes, all contained on the back cover, imply that the original songs are all Ozuna compositions (probably penned with guitar player, Rudy Palacios) while, within the contents are some pleasing covers of such as Billy Stewart’s ‘Cross My Heart’, Ruby & the Romantics’ ‘Our Day Will Come’, the Marvelettes’ ‘Forever’, the Flamingos’ ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, the Chi-Lites’ ‘Give It Away’ - a rare midtempo outing - and Little Anthony & the Imperials’ ‘(I’m On The) Outside Looking In’.  Of the rest, the gorgeous, supper club-styled ‘I Have No One’ is one of only two tracks clocking in at over three minutes and is easily the longest at 3:55, while ‘Get Down’ is actually a funky number, making the most of the brass players within the group.  It truly is a one-off excursion here, although the brass is not denied on such as the more standard ballad fare of ‘Should I Take You Home’ and ‘My Dream’, the set’s closer, which also would seem to have rare femme vocal support.  I have to thank ‘In The Basement’ contributor, Greg Burgess for putting me on to this cd - check out his article ‘Soul Of The Barrio’ in ITB #36! - it really is a sheer delight.

review posted 14/6/18