Sunday, 12 June 2011

“The Music City Story” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of 2011 Ace Records Mini Box Set.

"…Didn’t I Do The Best I Could…"

Released January 2011 in the UK, "The Music City Story" on Ace Records ABOXCD 11 is a 3CD mini box set and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 - “I’m A Working Man - Early To Mid 1950s”, 26 Tracks in Mono. The CD itself is a yellow ‘Delcro’ label, beneath is a repro of the 45 B-side “Keep Me Satisfied, Baby” by CHUCK MORRIS and his BAND on Delcro 102 (66:35 minutes).
Tracks 5, 8 11, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 21 to 26 are Previously Unreleased.

Disc 2 - “Scheming - Mid 1950’s to Early 1960s”, 26 Tracks in Mono. The CD itself is a brown ‘Music City’ label, beneath is a repro of a Music City Acetate of “I Walk In Circles” by LITTLE LYNN (66:29 minutes).
Tracks 8, 10, 17 and 23 to 26 are Previously Unreleased.

Disc 3 – “Just One More Chance - Early 1960s to Mid 1970s”, 26 Tracks in Stereo. The CD itself is a coloured musical notes version of the Music City label, beneath is a repro of the 45 “Didn’t I” by DORANDO on Music City MC 894 (70:22 minutes).
Tracks 2 to 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 25 and 26 are Previously Unreleased.

This lavishly packaged set chronicles Ray and Jeanne Dobard’s “Music City” Record Label out of Berkeley in California – 78 tracks from 1950 through to 1975. The last track on each disc is a short ‘Radio Ad’ and of the remaining 75 actual songs, a whopping 31 are Previously Unreleased. The first 2 CDs feature mostly Fifties Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Doo Wop cuts - while half way through Disc 3 it moves into Sixties and Seventies Soul of sorts. The set was compiled and researched by ALEC PALAO with the audio restoration and mastering done by ROB SHREAD and NICK ROBBINS at Sound Mastering in London. It’s beautifully done and the exceptional packaging (high even by Ace’s standards) is worth elaborating on…

A colour card-wrap houses a 3-way gatefold foldout digipak. As detailed above, each CD is themed with different period labels with another 45 pictured beneath the see-through clear plastic tray (both visually nice touches) - while the 48-page booklet (sits alongside the digipak) has a 16,000-word essay by ALEX PALAO - which features a full Discography on the last few pages. The over-sized booklet is gorgeous to look at and a properly informative read - trade adverts, archive photos of the family who ran it, rare 45s and acetates, publicity shots, artist contracts, even master cards and tape boxes for the recording sessions.

Disc 1 opens strongly with a jaunty R’n’B tune called “W-P-L-J” by THE 4 DEUCES (short for a cocktail drink featuring White Port and Lemon Juice) – very similar to The Penguins. Track 3 is a gem too – Golden Boy takes Lead Vocals on “Keep Me Satisfied, Baby” which is a very Roy Milton piano-driven R’n’B groove – and the sound quality is stupendous. The Doo Wop starts proper with the lovely “Tell Me, Darling” by THE GAYLARKS from 1955 – while the incredible rare religious vocal workout that is “This Wicked Race” by THE GOLDEN WEST SINGERS is so well produced – and collectors will love both. Jimmy Nelson’s “The Wheel” brings it back to dancing R’n’B.

Previously Unreleased - James Brown collectors will dig “All Around The World” (Track 2 on Disc 3) which features JB’s backing band and is a “Grits & Groceries” belter. Equally nice is the torch ballad “I Can’t Take Any More” by Johnnie Marie Throne (Track 12 on Disc 3) and the Lou Rawls ballad “Too Late To Cry” is a worthy inclusion.

The instrumental B-side “Passing Thru Music City” sounds like crudely recorded Booker T & The Mg’s but it’s a clever choice because it’s cool, while a huge draw for Soul lovers will be Dorando’s gorgeous ballad “Didn’t I” issued on 45 in October 1973 (lyrics above). A rare single which sold about 6000 copies locally, William Pulliam sounded like Al Green on a Soul-Folk tip – it’s possibly worth the price of admission alone (and it’s in top quality sound too).

Downsides - since its release in early 2011, this mini box set has received precious little interest from the public – unusual for a project Ace has put so much time into. Unfortunately, on hearing the actual material itself (especially on Discs 1 and 2), I can understand why. I have to admit that I found a lot of the songs plodding and ordinary and there’s too little decent Soul on Disc 3 (hence the 3 stars).

To sum up – while this is beautifully presented, I would advise hearing it first if you can. Still, for collectors of Doo Wop, R’n’B and rare Soul 45’s – it may be too difficult to resist…

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