The Royal Jesters
Reviewed by Thomas Fawcett, Fri., Aug. 21, 2015
Formed at Lanier High School in the late Fifties, the Royal Jesters long ruled the San Antonio teen scene, plying sweet soul and heartbreak ballads at local dances, hops, and talent shows. The group's catalog has now been lovingly compiled by the meticulous vinyl archivists at Chicago reissue label Numero Group on English Oldies, a 28-song retrospective spanning the group's golden years, 1962-67. This isn't the first time Numero tapped the deep well and distinct regional sound of San Antonio soul. The imprint's first foray came in 2013 with the reissue of Mickey & the Soul Generation's funk masterpiece Iron Leg coming hot on the heels of Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label, a celebration of Abe Epstein's regional indie. Embodiment of the beloved Westside sound, the Jesters capture the spirit of Alamo City better than anything Numero has released thus far. Myriad lineup changes accompanied the souleros' nearly two-decade run, but the recipe remained the same: dapper young Chicanos crooning black R&B and bubblegum doo-wop with a debt to Mexican vocal harmony trios like Los Tres Diamantes and Los Tres Aces. English Oldies thus preserves that teenage dream: love and heartache overlaying punchy horns, searing organ, and a scrappy rhythm section. That innocence lives on in a Jan & Dean cover, the title track of their 1965 debut LP We Go Together: "Let's go steady/ You are my first love." The flute and falsetto-laden "I've Got Soul" offers a spot-on Impressions impression, while standout covers include the organ-driven "Private Number" (William Bell) and sly morning-after musing of "Sleep Late, My Lady Friend" (Harry Nilsson, Jose Feliciano). Both Willie Bobo's "Spanish Grease" and Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Lypso" are sonic outliers, dance-floor stompers that put the Jesters' Latin flair front and centro. Lowrider R&B, Westside soul, English Oldies – call it what you will. San Antonio endures.