The former Lee Brown admittedly started his singing career as an ersatz Billy Eckstein, which is hard to imagine for a guy prone to wearing a sombrero, plaid jacket and wooden shoes, but that's the word. A skinny runt with a habit of annoying people, he was known to extricate himself from fights in which he was outmatched by tossing a handful of red pepper in his opponent's face.
He found a new musical direction in the mid-1940s when Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and others emerged with their fresh sounds. Babs was an instant convert, and saw it as his mission to create a vocal version of be-bop as a 'bridge to the people.' He incorporated inventive vocal improvisation complementing (or in place of) instrumental jams. His earliest 78, 'Oop-Pop-Pa-Da', was covered by Dizzy Gillespie (who took writing credit!) and was enough of a hit to inspire a parody by the Kirby Stone 4 called 'Who Parked the Car?' (Anybody having the KS4 record is asked to contact this reviewer immediately!)
Beautiful and wacky, these recordings feature backing by a number of jazz giants, including Sonny Rollins in his very first session. Babs' polyrhythmic scatting on 'The Continental' would have sent an Arthur Murray class into a mass seizure. The title tune is a spooky minor-key masterpiece. Fans of Slim Gaillard will certainly be tuned in to the Gonzales wavelength.
Out of print for a few years, this disc was reissued as part of Blue Note's 'Connoisseur Series,' which means it won't be around forever. Missing it a second time would be worse than a face full of red pepper.
Update: This gem is once again out of print. I tried to warn everybody.