Friday, 19 August 2016
"Street Corner Symphonies Volume 8: 1956" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2012 Bear Family CD - Marcus Heumann Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...
Hot on the heels of their definitive "Blowing The Fuse" and "Sweet Soul Music" CD Series (15 volumes to each genre of R'n'B and Soul) comes their Vocal Group attack - 15 discs spanning 1939 to 1963. Volumes 1 to 10 hit the shops in 2012 and the last five in the spring of 2013. And while critics will argue that Vocal Group music has already been done to death by Rhino (3 x 4CD Box Sets across the decades) and a mountain of other cheapo labels taking advantage of the 50-year copyright law - this is the first time someone reputable (other than Rhino) have had a go - and typically these Bear Family CDs are gorgeous in all the right places - presentation and audio. Here are the Church Bells, In The Still Of The Nite on The Woo Woo Train...
Released October 2012 in Germany - "Street Corner Symphonies Volume 8: 1956" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Bear Family BCD 17286 AR (Barcode 4000127172860) breaks down as follows (I've provided American single catalogue numbers on all tracks - 85:47 minutes):
1. In The Still Of The Nite - THE FIVE SATINS (Standord 6106 and Ember 1005, A)
2. Stranded In The Jungle - THE CADETS (Modern 994, A)
3. On What A Nite - THE DELLS (Vee-Jay 204, A)
4. I Want You To Be My Girl - FRANKIE LYMON and THE TEENAGERS (Gee 1012, A)
5. I'll Be Home - THE FLAMINGOS (Checker 830, A)
6. Ruby Baby - THE DRIFTERS (Atlantic 45-1089, A)
7. My Prayer - THE PLATTERS (Mercury 70893, A)
8. Come Go With Me - THE DELL-VIKINGS (Fee Bee FB-205 and Dot 15538, A)
9. A Thousand Miles Away - THE HEARTBEATS (Hull 720 and Rama 216, A)
10. Up On The Mountain - THE MAGNIFICENTS (Vee-Jay 83, A)
11. The Way You Look Tonight - THE JAGUARS (R-Dell 11, A)
12. Church Bells Will Ring - THE WILLOWS (Melba 102, A)
13. The Closer You Are - THE CHANNELS (Whirlin Disc 100, A)
14. I Promise - JIMMY CASTOR and THE JUNIORS (Wing 90078, A)
15. In Paradise - THE COOKIES (Atlantic 45-1084, A)
16. Zoom - THE CADILLACS with Jesse Powell's Orchestra (Josie 792, A)
17. A Casual Look - THE SIX TEENS (Flip 315, A)
18. Little Girl Of Mine - THE CLEFTONES with Jimmy Wright & His Orchestra (Gee 1011, A)
19. Bad Boy - THE JIVE BOMBERS featuring Clarence Palmer (Savoy 1508, A)
20. Down In Mexico - THE COASTERS (Atlantic 6064, A)
21. Castle In The Sky - THE BOP CHORDS featuring Ernest Harriston (Holiday 2601, A)
22. You Gave Me Peace Of Mind - THE SPANIELS with Al Smith's Orchestra (Vee-Jay 229, B-side of "Please Don't Tease")
23. Ka-Ding-Dong - THE G-CLEFS (Pilgrim 715, A)
24. Devil Or Angel - THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 45-1083, A)
25. I'm So Happy (Tra-La-La-La-La-La) - LEWIS LYMON and THE TEENCHORDS (Fury 1000, A)
26. Bacon Fat - ANDRE WILLIAMS (Mr. Rhythm) & His New Group (Fortune 831 and Epic 9196, A)
27. Rubber Biscuit - THE CHIPS (Josie 803, A)
28. See Saw - THE MOONGLOWS (Chess 1629, A)
29. Lover - JIMMY JONES & THE PRENTENDERS with Jimmy Wright & His Orchestra (Rama 210, A)
30. Let's You And I Go Steady - THE PEARLS with SAMMY LOWE & ORCHESTRA (Onxy 503, A)
31. The Woo Woo Train - THE VALENTINES with Jimmy Wright & His Orchestra (Rama 196, B-side of "Why")
32. Please, Please, Please - JAMES BROWN & His Famous Flames (Federal 12258, A)
The 84-page non-detachable booklet is a feast of indepth liner notes on each release by Grammy-winning writer and lifelong fan BILL DAHL. Let's put it this way - there's a 'Photo Captions' index on Page 83 that tells who's who in the black and white publicity shots that accompany most (not all) of the photos. It actually lists the singer's names - who else but Bear would do this? There are cool trade adverts from 1956 peppering the text and some of those rare American 45 labels are even pictured in colour (Gee, Mercury, Savoy, Atlantic, Holiday, Josie). The CD repros the rare "Rubber Biscuit" 45 on Josie by The Chips and the spine makes up a single photograph of the series name when you line up all 15 volumes alongside each other on a shelf. Long-standing and trusted names like Walter DeVenne and Billy Vera have been involved and MARCUS HEUMANN did the superb mastering. The sources (as you can imagine) differ wildly but the sound quality to my ears is improved on everything that I've heard before. The audio and presentation are top-class here - and the listen is fab...
1956 was a pivotal year in Vocal Group history hitting something of a pinnacle - and this disc shows that. But what makes it such a fabulous listen is the mixture of paces - slow smoochers - bopping dancers - mid-tempo lurches - and all of it in top audio quality. While The Cadets "Stranded In The Jungle" has always been a funny tune ("meanwhile back in the States...") - the magic really kicks in with the truly gorgeous "Oh What A Nite" by The Dells - as lovely and as romantic a tune as ever penned (and a $120.00 rarity). The same applies to The Heartbeats beautiful "A Thousand Miles Away" where Arthur Crump's Tenor soars as he bemoans distance between him and his girl (they later became Shep and The Limelites) while equally sweet is the lesser-heard cover version of the standard "The Way You Look Tonight" by The Jaguars - a $300 rarity on R-Dell Records (great audio too on the backing singers and accompanying piano).
In between the ballads and crooners you get wicked Fifties R 'n' B dancers like the "queen of my throne" song "Church Bells Will Ring" by The Willows complete with church-like chimes (another $300 rarity). Soul man Jimmy Castor (Jimmy Castor Bunch) started his career on a R 'n' B dancer - the obscure "I Promise" where he does his best Lymon "Juvenile Delinquent" impression. I've always loved The Cookies "In Paradise" - a little slice of Atlantic Records mid-tempo class (it's on the "Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1949-1974" 8CD box set) while bopping returns with handclaps and saxophone on the happy "Zoom" by The Cadillacs. A soldier boy's face freezes when he proposes in "A Casual Look" by The Six Teens while the happy-teen theme continues on "Little Girl Of Mine".
We slow to the "la, la, la..." chorus on the wonderfully smooth "Bad Boy" by The Jive Bombers where our love-smitten hero tells us that life is "just a bowl of cherries..." (more gorgeous audio too). We then go "Down In Mexico" with The Coasters where a man with a black moustache plays a piano in a Honky Tonk with dodgy consequences South of the Border. A rare and clever inclusion is the upbeat "Castle In The Sky" on the obscure Holiday label by The Bop Chords - top vocal R'n'B with a wicked Sax solo. We're then back to proper Vocal Group territory with The Spaniels on "You Gave Me Peace Of Mind" where you can literally see the group swaying beneath a streetlight. Another Atlantic Records gem is "Devil Or Angel" by the wonderful Clovers - a Number 3 Billboard R'n'B hit in January 1956. Finger-clicking cool kicks in with the impossibly smooth Andre Williams - "it's sweeping the South...that thing called Bacon Fat..." We then go back to dancing with the rare "Rubber Biscuit" by The Chips - a fun and funny song with almost impenetrable rhyming Cab Calloway lyrics - and the utterly infectious and brill "See Saw" by The Moonglows. Happy days... And the whole Disc ends with James Brown giving a nod to the Soul years to come with the incomparably brilliant "Please, Please, Please"
Niggles - they're too expensive as singles discs and perhaps they should have been doubles because real collectors will have more than a few titles on offer here. Bear Family will argue 'but not in this sound quality or presentation' - and they'd have a point.
Having said all of that - what is actually on here is fabulous stuff and given to us with love and affection by a company that cares about voices that would be forgotten without them. Another gold standard from Bear...