Thursday, 2 September 2010

"Blowing The Fuse – 30 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1956” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2006 Bear Family CD Compilation

"…She Digs That Music With A Beat…Rock 'n' Roll Is Her Meat…"

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 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 they're absolutely 'so' worth it...

"Blowing The Fuse - 30 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1956" is on Bear Family BCD 16711 AS and was released April 2006. Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures either a 7" single or album relevant to the year (1956 has "Honky Tonk (Part 1)" by Bill Doggett), the centre flap holds a 80 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 1956 issue has 84-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a generous 79:20 minutes.

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 "The Great Pretender", "In The Still Of The Night" and "Roll Over Beethoven" are sorted out by the next big plus...the beautifully clear sound...

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.

It opens with a fantastic-sounding double-whammy, "Speedo" by The Cadillacs and "Pretty Thing" by Bo Diddley. I've had both on other CDs, but the sound quality here is unbelievably good - the brass, the vocals, the drums - Bo Diddley fans especially will need to hear this. The Doo Wop tracks virtually define the era (especially The Five Satins) and the Atlantic songs are all noticeably better.
The chipper dancefloor rhythms of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" with Frankie Lymon's great vocal work follow perfectly after Ruth Brown's "I Want To Do Better" - both smartly giving voice to the teenage needs and longings of the day. The same clever sequencing applies to the girly pleading of "Eddie My Love" by The Teen Queens, followed by the sheer primeval menace of "Smokestack Lightning" from Howlin' Wolf - the big man sounding like he's a danger to society even now.

Obscurities and genius choices go to "Try Rock And Roll" by Bobby Mitchell - written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, it's a sly reworking of "Blueberry Hill" and is a brilliant discovery. "Jivin' Around" by veteran orchestra man Ernie Freeman is another that fits the dancing bill - it has some crackle at the very start, but soon disappears into an infectious instrumental boogie that virtually screams ‘coming to a TV advert near you - and soon'.
We're so used to the Peggy Lee version of "Fever" that Little Willie John's take comes as a both a shock and a welcome change. The lesser-heard dancer of "Little Girl Of Mine" by The Cleftones is a genius inclusion too. And as one classic follows after another - there's the astounding influence of these artists stretching out across the decades - James Brown on "Please, Please, Please", Ray Charles on "I Cried A Tear" and Little Richard on the blistering "Long Tall Sally" - each so gobsmackingly good, but in different ways.
But the joy of "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" by Joe Turner (lyrics above) sums it all up for me. It makes me cry as Big Joe and Van ‘Piano Man' Walls literally fill my living room with the sound of a nation ready to party - alive and breaking free from the chains of old.

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 80 (pictures of Big Walter Price and the Seeburg V-200 Jukebox grace Pages 81 and 82), so there's very little wasted space. Each artist is pictured using quality publicity shots, the 7" single itself is there - or if not a trade advert for the label - and every now and then - a beautiful full colour plate of lesser-seen album sleeves (The Teenagers rare self-titled album on Gee and a sheet music collage are on Pages 18 and 19 in colour, while The Teen Queens equally rare "Eddie My Love" set graces Page 23). Each song then has a 2 to 3 page essay on its history by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT with knowledgeable contributions from BILL MILLAR and DAVE BOOTH and Marv Goldberg's online R&B site. 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.

Niggles - the glossy card sleeve is easy to smudge and mark and the absence of Elvis Presley is a big hole in a year that many will feel was ground-zero (1956) - but apart from that there's just way too much great stuff on here to whinge about.

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 - "1956" 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...

Track List for the CD "Blowing The Fuse 1956"
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 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. Speedo – THE CADILLACS With The Jesse Powell Orchestra (Josie 785)
2. Pretty Thing – BO DIDDLEY (Checker 827)
[Although credited on the label as by McDaniels, it was written by Willie Dixon]
3. The Great Pretender – THE PLATTERS (Mercury 70753)
4. I Want To Do More – RUTH BROWN And Her Rhythmakers With Orchestra (Atlantic 1082)
[Written by Jerry Leiber And Mike Stoller
Her ‘Rhythmakers’ were the vocal group The Cues under another name]
5. Why Do Fools Fall In Love – THE TEENAGERS Featuring FRANKIE LYMON (Gee GG-1002)
6. Jivin’ Around (Part 1) – ERNIE FREEMAN COMBO (Cash 1017)
7. Eddie My Love – THE TEEN QUEENS (RPM 453)
8. Smokestack Lightning – HOWLIN’ WOLF (Chess 1618)
9. Try Rock And Roll – BOBBY MITCHELL (Imperial 5378)
10. Drown In My Own Tears – RAY CHARLES And His Band (Atlantic 1085)
11. We Go Together – THE MOONGLOWS (Chess 1619)
12. Long Tall Sally - LITTLE RICHARD And His Band (Specialty 572)
13. Please, Please, Please – JAMES BROWN With The Famous Flames (Federal 12258)
14. I’m In Love Again – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5386)
15. Boogie Woogie Country Girl – JOE TURNER And Orchestra Featuring Van ‘Piano Man’ Walls (Atlantic 1088)
[Written by Doc Pomus and Reginald Ashby]
16. Treasure Of Love – CLYDE McPHATTER (Atlantic 1092)
17. Little Girl Of Mine – THE CLEFTONES With Jimmy Wright And His Orchestra (Gee GG-1011)
18. Fever – LITTLE WILLIE JOHN (King 4935)
19. Roll Over Beethoven – CHUCK BERRY (Chess 1626)
20. It’s Too Late – CHUCK WILLIS (Atlantic 1098)
21. Let The Good Times Roll – SHIRLEY And LEE (Aladdin 3325)
[Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee]
22. Rip It Up – LITTLE RICHARD And His Band (Specialty 579)
23. In The Still Of The Night – THE FIVE SATINS (Standord 200/Ember E-1005)
[Also known as “(I Remember) In The Still Of The Night”]
24. Honky Tonk (Part 1)
25. Honky Tonk (Part 2) – BILL DOGGETT (King 4950)
26. Stranded In The Jungle – THE CADETS (Modern 994)
[The vocal group was also known as “The Jacks” and later became “The Vibrations”]
27. A Thousand Miles Away – THE HEARTBEATS (Hull 720/Rama 216)
[The Heartbeats featured James Sheppard who later became Shep And The Limelites]
28. You’ve Got Me Dizzy – JIMMY REED (Vee-Jay VJ 226)
29. (Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone – ROY MONTRELL And His Band (Specialty 583
30. Pack Fair And Square – BIG WALTER And His Thunderbirds (Peacock 5-1666)

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