Monday, 12 July 2010

“Kansas City Star” by JULIA LEE. A Review of the 1995 Bear Family 5CD Box Set.

"…I Used To Run Away From The Stuff…But Now Somehow…I Can’t Get Enough…"

“Kansas City Star” is a 5CD Box Set by Bear Family Records of Germany (released March 1995) which offers up a huge 109 remastered tracks in chronological release date order (20 are previously unreleased). It covers everything from her 1st rare 78” on the Meritt label in 1927 where she featured as a Duet Vocalist in her brother George’s jazz band - right through to her last recordings in 1957 – privately pressed 45”s on the obscure Foremost label.

Bear Family BCD 15770 EI breaks down as follows…

Disc 1, 22 Tracks, 61:24 minutes
Previously unreleased tracks are - “Wee Baby Blues” (15), “If It’s Good” (16), “I’ve Got A Crush On The Fuller Brush Man” (17), “Two Lovers Have I” (18), “Some Of These Days” (19), “St. Louis Blues” (20), “Shake That Thing” (21) and “Shake It And Break It” (22)

Disc 2, 20 Tracks, 57:47 minutes
Previously unreleased tracks are – “Have You Ever Been Lonely” (8) and “The Curse Of An Aching Heart” (17)

Disc 3, 24 Tracks, 73:53 minutes
Previously unreleased tracks are – “My Sin” [Takes 1, 2 and 3] (6, 7 and 8)

Disc 4, 19 Tracks, 54:50 minutes
Previously unreleased track is – “Marijuana” (3)

Disc 5, 24 Tracks, 62:51 minutes
Previously unreleased tracks are – “Music, Maestro Please” (7), “If I Didn’t Care” (10), “Lazy River” (11), “Can’t Get It Off My Mind” (13), “Kansas City Boogie” (17) and “Love In Bloom” (18)

This box will allow you to sequence all her 78”s and 45”s (42 entries) on the Meritt, Brunswick, Capitol, Premier, Mercury, Damon and Foremost labels. Her debut 1950 10” LP “Party Time” on Capitol Records and its extended 1955 12” LP equivalent are here in their entirety - as is her 2nd big official album - 1964 ‘s “Julia Lee & Her Boy Friends”.

During the Eighties Charly Records of England and Jukebox Lil of Sweden began to license unreleased Capitol recordings from her 1940s heyday - and along with 78” sides that had never been on album before - they issued 4 LPs between them. You get Charly’s “Tonight’s The Night” (1983) and “Of Lions And Lambs” (1988) and Jukebox Lil’s “Ugly Papa” (1983) and “A Porter’s Love Song” (1985) – all 4 LPs are here in their entirety too.

The 32-page album-sized booklet features a superb life/music appraisal by noted UK writer BILL MILLAR, while CHARLES J. HADDIX and Bear Family’s own RICHARD WEIZE compiled the very detailed session-by-session Discography. Like most Bear Family booklets of the time, it’s a lovely thing to behold featuring full page black & white shots of Julia in the Capitol Records studio, trade adverts, newspaper clippings, sheet music, repros of those beautiful American 78” labels and so on… And each CD has a different photo with a 78” repro’d on the other side of the single-sheet inlay.

The Disc/Metal Part Transfers have involved great names like WALTER DeVENNE and BOPPIN' BOB JONES - while the mastering was handled by ADAM SKEAPING. Excepting the 4 x 78”s featuring George E. Lee and His Novelty Singing Orchestra from the 1920s (rough sounding), once you hit the Capitol stuff (bulk of what’s on here), the sound quality is amazingly good. Some of the takes have studio chatter at the beginning and end and Disc 1 contains a newly discovered 8-track session from 1947 that is brilliant.

Musically – Julia Lee was a saucy soul – almost all of her songs involved sexual innuendo of some kind, which was both daring for the day and huge fun. Like her Capitol label mate Nellie Lutcher, you only had to hear that great voice and cast an eye on her ample frame – and good things were bound to happen. Julia had Big Joe Turner in her blood and Bessie Smith in her soul (at times compared to her). Her piano playing was good too.

Highlights for me include the salacious and sly lyrics (title above) of “I Didn’t Like It The First Time (The Spinach Song)” which as you can imagine isn't really about a vitamin supplement. There’s also lot of jazz blues on here too – but towards the end of her career – the ‘naughty’ angle had played itself out – and too many of the songs feel like they’re looking for a hit rather than actually being one.

Still – listening to these discs has been a joy for me and a real discovery. I’ve even sequenced the 12-track version of her fabulous “Party Time” album and play it often. Niggles – despite a 2-year search, the 2nd 45 from the Foremost label (Foremost 105) with “Trouble In Mind” and “Saturday Night” was never found – so its not here. And being a luxury box set, it's not cheap as an import...

Julia Lee died in December 1958 aged 56 and right up until the end of her life had been working bars in her beloved Kansas City. Her brother George Ewing who gave Julia her first 78” way back in 1927 died the following year. White boys Dave Dexter of Capitol who championed her and saxophonist Big Dave Cavanaugh who was one of her “Boy Friends” (she and her band were almost always credited as Julia Lee and Her Boy Friends) are long gone too. Thankfully this fabulous box set is here to remember them all in grace and style.

The mighty Bear Family folks - another peach from them and recommended like a life-enhancing tin of Spinach.

PS: I've also reviewed the following Bear Family box sets (with discographies) that may be of interest - Louis Jordan, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Freddie King, Ella Mae Morse and Nellie Lutcher.

PPS: for single discs, see also reviews for 2010 CDs from Bobby Charles "See You Later, Alligator" and the "Rocks" series budget sampler "All We Wanna Do Is ROCK".


crownpropeller said...

Hi, Mark

I am working on the Big Bob Dougherty discography to be published in british "Blues and Rhythm" magazine and I wondered if you could possibly do me a favor, since I do not own this Julia Lee Box set.

I would need to know if there really is a tenor sax on the following three tracks from CD 5:

“Can’t Get It Off My Mind”
“Kansas City Boogie”
“Love In Bloom”

I have heard the other tracks from this session and definitely Big Bob is on them. If you could spare some minutes of your precious time and let me know, I'd be very thankful.


Mark Barry said...

Hi Armin

I've only jst read your request - I was lent the box set by a customer, so it's no longer in my possession.

But I'll ask him to lend me the booklet - it has a sessionography under every date.

Give me a few days - and I'll reply soonest.

Mark Barry

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