Tuesday, 22 June 2010

“Barrelhouse, Boogie, And The Blues” by ELLA MAE MORSE. A Review of the 1997 5CD Box set on Bear Family BCD 16117 EI.

"…Fall In There And We’ll See Some Sights…Down At The House Of Blue Lights…”

Released August 1997 by Bear Family Records of Germany, “Barrelhouse, Boogie, And The Blues” offers up 134 Mono tracks across 5 CDs housed in a 12” x 12” Box Set with a 40-page full-sized booklet. It covers her entire musical output for Capitol Records from May 1942 to June 1957 (32 are previously unreleased). The booklet has an essay on the popular singer by noted expert and fan KEVIN COFFEY (which includes Morse’s involvement) and also boasts an updated and detailed session-by-session Discography with various photos, press reviews and trade adverts etc.

Bear Family BCD 16117 EI breaks down as follows…

Disc 1, 25 Tracks, 73:00 minutes
5 Tracks Are Previously Unreleased: “Solid Potato Salad” (9), “Boogie Blues” (12), “The Patty Cake Man” [Alternate Take] (15), “Take Care Of You For Me” (18) and “Jumpin’ Jack” (21)

Disc 2, 27 Tracks, 73:29 minutes
8 Tracks Are Previously Unreleased: “That’s My Home” (3), “Mister Fine” (4), “The Merry Ha-Ha” (5), “Old Spider Fingers” (19), “Am I In Love” (22), “Okie Boogie” (23), “Organ Grinder’s Swing” (24) and “It’s So Exciting” (25)

Disc 3, 28 Tracks, 66:08 minutes
11 Tracks Are Previously Unreleased: “Here Comes The Blues” (3), “The Song is You” (5), “You’ve Taken An Unfair Advantage Of Me” (6), “Bouncin’ Ball” (9), “Find A Man For Me Mama” (10), “You For Me” (12), “I’m A Rich Woman” (14), “Big Mamou (Intro)” (15), “Big Mamou (Outro)” (17), “Carioca” (19) and “T’Aint Whatcha Do” (24)

Disc 4, 29 Tracks, 69:38 minutes
5 Tracks Are Previously Unreleased: “It’s You I Love”(5), “Dedicated To You” (7), “All I Need Is You” (13), “Afraid” (17) and “Once You’ve Been Lovers” (29)

Disc 5, 25 Tracks, 64:45 minutes
3 Tracks Are Previously Unreleased: “You Ought To Be Mine” (7), “Rockin’ And Rollin’” (14) and “I’m Hog Tied Over You” (16)

First thing you notice is the saucy painting on the box cover - a full-sized repro of the artwork for her famous 1st album “Barrelhouse, Boogie, And The Blues” (a $400 rarity). It was initially issued as an 8-track 10” LP in 1954 on Capitol H-513 and then subsequently extended to a 12-Track 12” LP in 1955 on Capitol T-513.

They’re actually two different beasts – the 10” has eight cover versions of Atlantic and King artists like Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, The Ravens, Bullmoose Jackson and Billy Ward & His Dominoes – so it’s a Fifties R’n’B peach. The extended 12-track 12” however suited 1955 by adding on four crooner tunes to the eight rockers – actually giving it a far more rounded feel. And because both album sleeves suggested the singer was a sassy, voluptuous, sexpot (the kind of woman your white-haired mother warned you about), it wasn’t surprising to find that both punters and singers in the industry (Sammy Davis, Jr. included) were stunned to find that in the flesh Ella Mae Morse wasn’t black at all – but a young squeaky-clean white woman from Mansfield in Texas with an ah-shucks smile and a pretty frock. But therein lies another story…

When Capitol launched its first nine 78”s on 1 July 1942, Ella Mae Morse was there on Day 1. She sang lead with Freddie Slack and his Orchestra on the A-side of Capitol 102 - “Cow-Cow Boogie”. It was a huge hit and quickly climbed to Number 1 - putting the fledgling label on the map. By 1946 Capitol had shifted 46 million records, by the mid Fifties they boasted two of the best selling singers in the Universe (Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra) and by the mid Sixties they’d acquired some band from Liverpool in England (who also shifted some records - apparently). So you could say with confidence that Nick Tosche’s assertion that she was one of ‘the great unsung heroes of rock ‘n’ roll’ is right (the lyrics to the pre Rock’n’Roll 1946 song “The House Of Blue Lights” are above). Dress hanging off her shoulder or not – the world owes Ella Mae Morse for what her breakthrough led to.

Niggles – the booklet doesn’t picture a single 78”, EP nor LP which is just ridiculous when you’re paying this amount of money. The text is peppered with cheesy shots of her in the Capitol studios – the kind of sanctioned non-offensive crud Rock ‘N’ Roll just had to wipe away. And the music itself is not all great either – the crooner stuff starts to sound repetitive – too many brassy Peggy Lee clones. Having said that, the Capitol production values are fabulous throughout – even on the early 78”s - brought out by the tape transfers and mastering skills of RICHARD WEISZ and NICK ROBBINS.

Born in 1924, Ella Mae Morse passed away in 1999 at the age of 75 - a deeply religious woman whose career is unfortunately only remembered by a select few. This 5CD box set finally does her and her musical legacy proud. Despite my misgivings about the bland booklet and the lesser tracks, this is a typically brill Bear Family project – keeping alive for posterity what must and should be remembered.

For fans of the Forties and Fifties, “Barrelhouse…” is recommended big time.

The casual buyer, however, should opt for a single best of like the excellent 1992 “Capitol Collectors Series” CD.

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