The Fi-Tones - part two : The
Classic Half Dozen ©1999JCMarion
In a time span that was not quite two years in duration, The Fi-Tones recorded six classic vocal group ballads that remain to this day, prime examples of the sound and style of what has become known as "doo wop" singing-that is, the sound of vocal group harmony in a blues based musical setting. This style has remained memorable and unique, and persists to this day because of those qualities. Here are six examples in this classic style, the first five recorded for Atlas Records and the final tune appeared on the Old Town label.
Foolish Dreams - The first release by the Fi-Tones Quintette was superlative in every sense of the word. Featuring the sound of dual lead backed by dual harmony over a bass voice during the main portion of the song was a rarely heard styling. The wistfully sung introduction to the song by Lloyd Davis was the perfect setting for the body of the tune where he was joined by Gene Redd on vocal. The backing combo of drums, bass, piano, guitar, and a barely heard tenor sax never intrude on the group and are the right complement for them. Davis sings the solo vocal on the bridge with great full harmony by the rest of the Fi-Tones behind him. The final chorus has a wonderfully understated ending with three piano chords and a fading guitar figure to top off a great vocal performance.
It Wasn't A Lie - This song again features a dramatic intro as a framing device for the tune and a nice touch is the group breaking into harmony on the last line of the intro after unison singing up to that point. This is a solo lead effort by Lloyd Davis who handles it with great flair and dramatic style. There is a nice descending run at the end of the first verse that fits in nicely with the pacing of the lyrics. The same backing instrumentation is heard again and again they do not intrude on the vocal performance. A unique and unusual touch is heard at the end of the bridge when there is a tempo stop which leads into a chord change which is used to propel the group into the final chorus. At the end of the last chorus the group revisits the framing lyrics that opened the song, but this time they lead into the song's ending.
I Call To You - The third of the classic vocals by The Fi-Tones Quintette has the group returning to the dual lead format they found so successful on their recording debut. This time the dual vocals are handled by Gene Redd and Lowe Murray. The tenor sax is identifiable behind the vocal this time, but barely, and the balance between the backing instruments and the voices is kept to near perfection which in itself is amazing given the limited resources of a small independent label such as Atlas. Bass singer Ron Anderson gives a nice touch by using an echo effect repeating parts of the lead vocal as part of the backing harmony. The baritone and tenor lead voices trade lines during the bridge over three part harmony, which leads into the final chorus which begins with a full reading of the lyric at the start of the verse. The dual vocalizing repeating the last line of the lyric at the end of the final chorus has much of the sound of Gene & Eunice on "This Is My Story". There is a tempo stop at the end and then into the apparent fade but then - a marvelous musical moment occurs as Redd and Murray go into the notes used in the intro, but the key is dropped by a half tone and the segment ends the tune. This gives the ending a whole new interpretation as it conveys the wistful and sentimental quality of most of the group's work. This coda (ending) is one of the best I have ever heard and is a defining moment by the group.
I Belong To You - The solo lead on this tune is by Lowe Murray who takes over after the intro which serves as an announcement for the song. Murray sings the lyrics with a clipped phrasing over four part harmony which brings to mind the sound captured on record by The Strangers "Without A Friend". There is a nice vocal treatment on the bridge, using floating voices with an echoing effect that sets off the main chorus nicely. The final chorus ends and the group launches into a reprise of the 'doo-wop' intro pattern and then unfortunately ends on a somewhat discordant note, the only time that the Fi-Tones seemed to miss their spot. I am surprised that there was not an effort to re-record that part of the song, but in my opinion it is not that big an issue that will detract from the overall performance. It is just a measure of the group that anything less than perfection comes as a surprise.
Waiting For Your Call - The final recording by the Fi-Tones Quintette for the Atlas label is marked by two subtle differences from previous records. The first is the faster tempo that the song is taken, and the second is the more "up front" sound of the backing musicians (especially drums and piano) than on past recordings. Lloyd Davis returns as lead singer for this song and does his usual smooth and effortless vocalizing in front of the other voices. The second bridge features an interesting variation on the standard fare - ensemble work by the group trades lines with Davis, and this technique works beautifully. Another apparent difference on this record is the quick hook-that is the rapid ending to the song. It leads to an annoying thought that perhaps the Fi-Tones knew that this was the end of their association with Tommy Robinson and Atlas Records, and they were in a hurry to move on and this resulted in the rushed atmosphere that pervades this record. However it is a good effort and I differ with the opinion of Donn Fileti in the liner notes to the CD that this was a "dreary ballad". Certainly not their best, but a good listen for sure.
My Faith - The Fi-Tones had left Atlas and were now on Old Town, and with this song they showed that the group was still an inventive and satisfying vocal unit. Lowe Murray is on lead on this beautiful song, and the backing harmony gets just the right sound with a "churchy" feel (somewhat like The Impressions on "Your Precious Love"). The piano plays a big part in setting the sound of the recording with the hammered eighth notes leading into second half of the chorus and its bluesy fill on the last lines. The spoken recitation of the first half of the final chorus is properly dramatic, as is the ending featuring some wonderful harmony by the group. This is a simple but marvelous song concerning eternal and undying love (compare that to what passes for today's subject matter in modern music) that justifies the term 'classic' in the context of the body of work by The Fi-Tones.
These then are the Fi-Tones Quintette's classic half dozen - six tunes that are the major body of work by one of the great New York vocal groups. Six sentimental, wistful, and heartfelt ballads that captured a moment in time that will not come again. Be glad that you were there - and if you weren't, you have the opportunity to see what you missed the first time around - the sound of The Fi-Tones.
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