Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band (Sire)
The delicious joke of David Letterman calling Paul Shaffer's bunch on his show "The World's Most Dangerous Band" is that there was nothing the slightest bit dangerous about them. Bands don't get more safely and reassuringly in the pocket of American pop music than Shaffer's band, whose soul was comfortably ensconced in the music of the Kennedy/Johnson years. "The CBS Orchestra" wasn't exactly appropriate either.
What Shaffer's band always was -- even back on NBC when its wilder and woolier members included guitarist Hiram Bullock, also saxophonist David Sanborn and drummer Steve Jordan -- was a collection of studio mega-pros who straddled jazz and R&B the way the finest studio musicians this side of Phil Spector always did. Listen to this and you'll again be confronted how much Shaffer owes to the early examples of Spector and Don Kershner.
Here is Shaffer, now a sometime shipboard pirate radio operator, recording his first record with his band in 24 years: bassist Will Lee amd guitarist Felicia Collins (both of whom also sing, as does Shaffer), drummer Anton Fig, guitarist Sid McGinnis and Tom Malone, Frank Greene and Aaron Heick on horns. The question "what's not to like?" hits you right away when Shaffer plays an R&B flavoring of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" with reggae master Shaggy on top. Darius Rucker guests on "Why Can't We Live Forever?," Jenny Lewis sings "Sorrow" and best of all, in many ways, the great Bronx Rockmaster Dion sings "Win Your Love for Me."
Collins duets with Valerie Simpson on "I Don't Need No Doctor" and does "Some Kind of Wonderful" alone. Bill Murray spreads disengaged Canadian cool all over "Happy Street" and Will Lee advises us to "Join the Ride." And what, you might well inquire, does Shaffer save for himself to sing? How about Jon Hendricks' "Yeh-Yeh" made pop-chart famous in the '60's by British invader George Fame. Obviously, that's the era of Shaffer's greatest chronological comfort. Shaffer sings "Just Because" too.
For those who want to catch this legendarily safe band live, your chance will come April 20 at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ont.
3 stars (out of four)