Hugo Montenegro – Hugo In Wonder-Land

Hugo Montenegro, probably best known for his cover of the title track of Sergio Leone’s 1966 movie “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” (originally by Ennio Morricone) as well as being a prolific soundtrack composer and orchestra leader, was also a trailblazer of the Moog and Mini Moog keyboards back in the 70s. His space age sound and the sound of the Moog and ARP synthesizer is the name of the game on his 1974 LP “Hugo In Wonder-Land”, just recently rereleased for the latest Record Store Day (with a slightly different cover). Played mostly by Larry Muhoberac, who was the original keyboard player for Elvis Presley for a brief period in the late 60s and who had earlier played with Woody Herman and then later with Nancy Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner, and Ray Charles, this album is like a paradise for both Moog/ARP and Stevie Wonder fans.

Hugo Montenegro "Hugo In Wonder-Land"

Five of the tracks are from Stevie’s 1973 LP “Innervisions”, three more from 1972’s “Talking Book” and one each from “For Once In My Life” (1968) and “My Cherie Amour” (1969) and all tracks were arranged and conducted by Hugo. The album came out a year after an LP with Neil Diamond covers and preceded an album of Elton John covers. An album in between, “Others By Brothers”, also had Stevie’s 1974 classic “Creepin'” on it.

Those space age sounds, reminiscent to what Esquivel did in the 60s, mixed in with some Herbie Hancock sounds from “Thrust” (1974), are front and center throughout. The wicked keys and synths on “Too High”, the second track after the opener “Living For The City”, are simply outstanding. It also helps that Tom Scott works on the woodwinds, Chuck Findley on trumpet, and Larry Carlton on guitar. Turns out to be an incredibly funky affair. Rock meets spacy synths on “Superstition” which works pretty well because it retains a very percussive flair, courtesy of Bobbye Hall, who is present throughout the album. It’s a weird cover version. “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” gets an incredibly frivolous treatment with the sounds from the ARP getting quirky, almost eccentric. There is a very tender flute (Tom Scott) and bass (Wilton Felder) backing on “My Cherie Amour”.

Tom Scott plays the melody on “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” on flute, with the ARP taking over for the chorus and subsequent solos. Here it almost sounds like a dulcimer and is played mostly in the higher registers, like on most cuts on the album. “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Bee-Doo-Da-Day” comes along very funky and with the use of a talkbox and “Higher Ground” bubbles along hastily. Hal Blaine’s drums are prominent throughout a brilliantly executed “You’ve Got It Bad, Girl” with thick and rugged synths and keys and “All In Love Is Fair”, the album closer, has only very spare synths, mostly for backing up and thus, keeping it mostly straightahead and simple. A great reissue.

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