Thursday, 23 September 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1952” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2005 Bear Family CD Compilation

"…I’ve Got Six Extra Children…From A Getting Frisky..."

The "Blowing The Fuse" series of CD compilations stretches across 16 volumes from 1945 to 1960 and was then followed by Bear Family's equally magnificent "Sweet Soul Music" series of 10 sets from 1961 to 1970 (I've reviewed all 10 of those in detail). Having been drawn in by the truly beautiful sound quality and presentation of the 'Soul' discs, I knew it would be a big blow to my bank balance buying even one of these R&B issues - and it was! But I've laboured with all of these time-consuming detailed reviews because these reissues are the business...they really are.

"Blowing The Fuse - 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1952" is on Bear Family BCD 16707 AS and was released April 2005 in Germany. Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures an original record relevant to the year (1952 has "The Bells Are Ringing" by Smiley Lewis on Imperial), the centre flap holds a 70 to 90 page oversized booklet that slips out so you can read it separately and the right flap a colour-themed CD that matches the outer packaging. As with the 10 "Sweet Soul Music" compilations, each of the 16 R&B spines makes up a whole photo when placed alongside each other (a fantastic black & white shot of a crowd of hip dudes and their gals dancing at some Saturday night bar). As you can see from the cover photos of these compilations too, the theme of people dancing and artists enjoying themselves is repeated right across all of these wonderfully restored photographs (they're from The Showtime Music Archive in Toronto). This 1952 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a healthy 78:59 minutes.

Compiler Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth took his time with this - actually playing the set through - mixing in the famous with the obscure but in a new order - and the result is a truly satisfying listen rather than a patchy one. The compilation begins in January and in rough chronological order ends in December. And even the way-too-familiar tracks on here like "Dust My Broom" by Elmore James and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Lloyd Price are all sorted out by the next big plus...the massively improved sound (on almost all tracks)...

THE SOUND and TRACK CHOICES:
Bear Family have gotten all the ORIGINAL master tapes from each record company (both Mono and Stereo) and their resident expert JURGEN CRASSER has mastered them with care - and given the wildly varying sources, the sound is uniformly GLORIOUS.

The post war years saw America wanting to rock – so it’s not surprising that so many songs in 1952 did just that – infectious floor-fillers include “Lovin’ Machine” by Wynonie Harris, “The Train Kept-A-Rollin’” by Tiny Bradshaw and “I Can’t Lose With The Stuff I Use” by Lester Williams. Even the Doo Wop vocal groups were in on the boppin’ act – “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by The Orioles and “Rock Me All Night Long” by The Ravens. But best of all is “Have Mercy Baby” by The Dominies where the lead singer tells us in a pleading warble “…I’ve been a good for nothing…I’ve lied and cheated too…” That fabulous new vocalist was Clyde McPhatter, ably backed up by Billy Ward’s ultra-tight combo (he fined them for missing beats). The result is R’n’B perfection.

In between these rockers were the misery guts songs like the wonderfully bluesy “So Tired” by Roy Milton and the almost dark “Hard Times” by Charles Brown. “Hard Times” was one of the first songs to benefit from the stunning Leiber & Stoller songwriting partnership – it sounds amazing despite its dubbed-from-disc roughness. Speaking of which, it’s not all good news on the sound front - “Booted’ By Rosco Gordon features very audible crackle and hiss, while “My Song” by Johnny Ace is not just badly recorded – it’s almost unlistenable. And there’s some disappointing clicks on “5-10-15 Hours” by Ruth Brown – but it’s still better than I’ve ever heard it…

Genius choices – there’s two superb instrumentals - “Night Train” by Jimmy Forrest (later covered so well by James Brown) and “Juke” by Little Walter – a harmonica blast so good it might tempt the dead back from Heaven for one more turn on the barroom floor. But my poison is the fantastically catchy dancer “It Ain’t The Meat” by The Swallows (whose picture graces the front cover). It bops along with great double-entendre lyrics - the handclaps and lead vocals beautifully clear from the remaster.

Criminally forgotten gems go to “Got You On My Mind” by John Greer (covered over the years by acts as diverse as Piano Red, Cookie And The Cupcakes and Eric Clapton) and the stunning discovery of Thomas Braden’s lead vocals on “Mary Jo” by The Four Blazes – a cross between Louis Prima and Smiley Lewis. The slashing guitar of Elmore James on the seminal “Dust My Broom” sounds like it was recorded in a bucket with a microphone bought at Woolworths, but it still packs the punch of a fist in the face – and it also reminds you of how many white guitar players fell under its voodoo spell who then subsequently shaped rock music for the next 40 years. And once again – like 1953 – it’s also noticeable just how far ahead of the game "Atlantic" was as a label - "The Chill Is On'" by Big Joe Turner, "5-10-15 Hours" by Ruth Brown and the irresistibly saucy “One Mint Julep" by The Clovers (lyrics above) – all great.

The women are either containing their men’s ardour - “Easy, Easy Baby” by Varetta Dillard or being shot because they’re cheated on them – “Goodbye Baby” by Little Caesar – an extraordinarily grim tune where bullets sound out in the dying moments – twice (he does himself too!).

THE BOOKLET:
Although slightly different in layout, like the "Sweet Soul Music" series, the booklet is to die for. With an intro on Page 4, the text for the songs begins on Page 5 and ends on Page 69, so there's almost no wasted space. Each artist is pictured using quality publicity shots, and every now and then, a beautiful full colour plate of lesser-seen singles and their label bag graces an entire page ("3 O’Clock Blues” by B.B. KING on RPM Records and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Lloyd Price on Specialty are on Pages 11 and 48). Each song then has an essay on its history by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT with knowledgeable contributions from BILL MILLAR, DAVE BOOTH, Marv Goldberg's online R&B site, Robert L. Campbell, Red Saunders Research Project, Larry Cohn, Walter DeVenne and Bernd Matheja. And because the booklet allows Escott to spread out on each song, the details come thick and fast - like Dahl's work on "Sweet Soul Music" - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read.

To sum up - even though they're expensive as imports, I think once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these compilations (no matter what the date) - they'll be irresistibly hooked. For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of R&B Music for a given year - "1952" is 'the' place to start.

Compilations like this live or die based on a few key ingredients - great track choices, properly remastered sound and all of it wrapped up in knowledgeable and (if you're lucky) sumptuous presentation. Well "Blowin The Fuse" wins on all counts - it really does. The entire series is gorgeous to look at and especially to listen to. Well done to all involved...

PS: the pictures on the front sleeves of 1952 and 1953 have been 'reversed' by Bear Family despite what the Amazon pictures above show (probably done at the last minute – see my own photos provided).

Track List for the CD "Blowing The Fuse 1952"
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 78"/7" Single Follow The Title. If There's TWO Catalogue Numbers, The First Is The Original; The 2nd Is The Reissue In That Year)

1. The Chill Is On – JOE TURNER With Van “Piano Man” Walls And His Orchestra (Atlantic 949)
2. It Ain’t The Meat – THE SWALLOWS (King 4501)
3. 3 O’Clock Blues – B.B. KING (RPM 339)
4. Got You On My Mind – JOHN GREER And The Rhythm Rockers (RCA 20/47-4348)
5. Booted – ROSCO GORDON (Chess 1487)
6. Weepin’ And Cryin’ – THE GRIFFIN BROTHERS ORCHESTRA Featuring Tommy Brown (Dot 107)
7. Dust My Broom – ELMORE JAMES (Trumpet 146)
8. Lovin’ Machine – WYNONIE HARRIS With Todd Rhodes’ Orchestra (King 4485)
9. Hard Times – CHARLES BROWN And His Band (Aladdin 3116)
10. Wheel Of Fortune – DINAH WASHINGTON With Orchestra Accompaniment (Mercury 8267)
11. Baby, Please Don’t Go – THE ORIOLES (Jubilee 5065)
12. The Train Kept-A-Rollin’ – TINY BRADSHAW (King 4497)
13. Goin’ Home – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5180)
14. One Mint Julep – THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 963)
15. I Can’t Lose With The Stuff I Use – LESTER WILLIAMS And His Band (Specialty 422)
16. Night Train – JIMMY FORREST And His Allstar Combo (United U 110)
17. I’m Gonna Play The Honky Tonks – MARIE ADAMS With Bill Harvey’s Band (Peacock 1583)
18. Have Mercy Baby – THE DOMINOES (Federal 12068)
[Clyde McPhatter on Lead Vocals]
19. So Tired – ROY MILTON And His Solid Senders (Specialty 429)
20. Lawdy Miss Clawdy – LLOYD PRICE And His Orchestra (Specialty 428)
21. 5-10-15 Hours – RUTH BROWN With Orchestra (Atlantic 962)
22. Mary Jo – FOUR BLAZES (Lead Vocal Thomas Braden) (United U 114)
23. My Song – JOHNNY ACE With The Beale Streeters (Duke R-102)
24. The Bells Are Ringing – SMILEY LEWIS (Imperial 5194)
25. Easy, Easy Baby – VARETTA DILLARD (Savoy 847)
26. Juke – LITTLE WALTER (Checker 758)
27. Goodbye Baby – LITTLE CAESER (Hollywood 235)
28. I Don’t Know – WILLIE MABON And His Combo (Chess 1531)
29. Rock Me All Night Long – THE RAVENS (Mercury 8291)

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