Tuesday, 5 January 2010

“The History Of Rhythm & Blues Part One - 1925-1942” – by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review of the 2008 4CD Box Set by Rhythm And Blues Records of the UK.

"…Blues Done Called Me…Pack My Things And Go…”

Released in March 2008, this 4CD box set is the first issue from Rhythm And Blues Records – a new label out of the UK specializing in quality issues of R&B music from way back (Catalogue No: RANDB001).

It breaks down as follows…

Disc 1: “From The Delta To The City”
(Country Blues And Spirituals, Jug Bands And Hokum), 24 Tracks, 73:54 minutes
Disc 2: “The Rhythm”
(Piano Boogie-Woogie Ragtime And Jazz), 24 Tracks, 72:38 minutes
Disc 3: “Up River To Chicago”
(Urban Blues And Gospel), 25 Tracks, 72:59 minutes
Disc 4: “Jazzin’ The Blues”
(After Hours Swing, Boogie And Jive), 24 Tracks, 72:49 minutes

There’s an outer card wrap, which houses a 3-way fold out 4-disc clip holder. The 32-page booklet (attached to the centre inner sleeve) gives detailed track-by-track analysis of each song – when it was recorded, players if known, USA 78” catalogue numbers, chart positions etc… Between the texts are trade adverts, some artist publicity photos and small colour pictures of those beautiful Vocalion and Brunswick 78” labels…

Downsides - although the set looks nice, the discs are hard to get out of the clips and the attached booklet is difficult to read BECAUSE it’s attached - the 2nd volume from 2009 in this series rectified all that – different inner holder and a pouch for a separate booklet (see separate review). If you want a full printed out version, the same detailed text is available from their website in colour.

Expertly and lovingly compiled by NICK DUCKETT and remastered by PR INTERNATIONAL, given the vintage of the recordings (1925 to 1942), the sound quality obviously varies enormously – some are awful, but others are superlative. It’s amazing how good some of the Thirties Blues sounds – “Knockin’ A Jug” by Louis Armstrong is stunning and the amazingly lewd “Lead Pencil Blues” by Johnnie Temple (a man not troubled by Viagra problems) sounds so good – it’s eerie.

But what doesn’t vary is the sheer charm of the recordings themselves – the ballsy nature of the lyrics – the poverty and despair of an entire part of society on the move (lyrics from Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues” - Track 3 on Disc 2 - give this review it’s title). It’s like eavesdropping on history – and it’s a feel that is both funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I also found around the centre of Disc 2 the track choices ‘so’ begin to work – weaving a magical listen that had customers coming to the counter in our shop asking, “who’s this?”

Retailing at under twenty and less from most online retailers, and despite its packaging niggles, this box set of 97 remastered obscurities is both revelatory and great value for money – it’s music you’ll find yourself loving and wanting more of.

A rather lovely reissue really – recommended.

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