Al Caiola – Music For Space Squirrels [ATCO Records, 1958]

This distinctively-titled 1958 album by Al Caiola (on the ATCO label) is made up of twelve popular standards, adding up to about 27 minutes of frantic melodies with an Atomic Age vibe.

“Music For Space Squirrels” is quite a creative title for an LP — in the ‘50s or even in this day and age. The sounds that make up this record, however, don’t really conjure up imagery of outer space nor do they come across as particularly “squirrely,” that is, without the suggestion of the title. Don’t get me wrong, though — this album has a nice clean feel, a little slick perhaps, but not without the feeling that it couldn’t have been produced any earlier or later than it actually was. It is, therefore, a relic of the late ‘50s, and should be appreciated as just that.

It should be said upfront that this is not a blockbuster release in Al Caiola’s discography, per se. While “Music For Space Squirrels” doesn’t lack the kind of eccentricity that Caiola is typically known for, it does lack a certain kind of luster. To elaborate, at least a few of his albums feature such unusual arrangements and exaggerated stereo separation that it sounds literally “out of this world,” even based on one’s first impression. This album, on the other hand, seems much more “run of the mill,” and I would almost think that it was released purely to satisfy sales.

Despite all that, these songs are not bad by any means. Several of these songs (three to be exact) are Rags. Traditional Ragtime was not often re-worked in the Exotica or Space Age Bachelor Pad music genres but these work pretty well for the overall mix. While it might be one reason that this album isn’t quite as “spacey” as the title and cover art imply, it does add a little variety — as in, not rehashing the same old standards that have already been re-arranged by twenty (or more) other musicians. Also, the fact that these songs keep up such a fast tempo, it creates a feverish or frenzied atmosphere that many others never experimented with during the time. Some people might find it very agitating, but if you’re able to remain calm, you’d probably find some way of appreciating what Caiola was doing with it here.

Now, a few words about Al Caiola, himself. A productive guitarist, his work spans many record labels: RCA, Time and Savoy, to name a few. Exotica and Space Age Pop LPs rarely feature the guitar up front and center, so he’s one of only a few other people playing this instrument on such releases. While there were other notable guitarists in the genre — Tony Mottola, Billy Mure, Vinnie Bell and Les Paul, for example — the orchestra (its brass, woodwinds, piano and so on) was the main standard and focal point during this epoch.

So, what’s the verdict? This album is alright. I think he has recorded better music, frankly. Of the other Caiola albums I’ve heard, one that I remember being pretty interesting is “Guitars, Woodwinds and Bongos” (1960). It was released on United Artists’ Ultra Audio Wall-To-Wall series of albums, and is quirky in all of the best ways. Ultimately, you decide what you like and don’t like, but I would recommend this more for the obsessive collector or completist.

Joseph A. Bremson
The Exciting Sounds Project

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