Mink DeVille, and in particular main man Willy DeVille, had the look, the songs, the connections (the legendary Jack Nitzsche produced the band's first two albums and Hall Of Fame songwriter Doc Pomus co-wrote several songs with Willy)...everything you'd want in a band except the success they deserved. Although they were from the same CBGB's scene that birthed seminal punk/new wave bands such as The Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, and Blondie, Mink DeVille's tough brand of r&b-based rock 'n' roll had more in common with Van Morrison's rougher material, early Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, and especially Graham Parker, who Willy sounds a little alike vocally. This collection cherry picks the best songs from the band's first three albums, Cabretta, Return To Magenta, and Le Chat Blue, and though I admit I've never heard any of those albums, this 22-track compilation includes about 2/3 of the songs from those albums, and most of the best ones according to my friend Jeff who knows these guys better than I do (in fact, he saw them live back in the day and he suspected that perhaps the marks on Willy's arms had something to do with the band's lack of success). Although the rockers are sometimes cheesy or generic, Willy rarely faulted when it came to ballads, where his soulful voice (which had Nitzsche at "hello") was at its most effective. Some of these songs have a doo-wop or Latin flavor, and the band's urban teen dramas (sample lyric: "I thought you were a sweet thing, when I saw you riding on the A train") hark back to a more innocent time when all the girls were "pretty" and "tough" and all the guys were "cool" (and also tough). It's hard to pick out specific song highlights, but suffice it to say that if you don't like "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" (the Mink DeVille song), "Little Girl," "'A' Train Lady" (both among several covers on this compilation, most of which are fitting given that so many of the band's own originals sound like "golden oldies"), "Desperate Days" (arguably the best rocker), "Just Your Friends" (which has an epic quality to it), and "Just To Walk That Little Girl Home" (the best of the Pomus co-writes), then you probably don't like Mink DeVille. That's highly unlikely, though, and songs such as "Spanish Stroll," "She's So Tough," "Guardian Angel," "I Broke That Promise," "You Just Keep Holding On," and "This Must Be The Night" are good as well, while even the lesser songs are usually serviceable and are well performed. Rounding out this classy package is the entertaining and informative liner notes by former Mink DeVille A&R man and current writer Ben Edmonds, including a great anecdote about Mick Jagger digging the band's music. Anyway, it's likely that I'll check out more of where this came from, but regardless of what I find out on that front this sure is a stellar introduction to a fine band.
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