Monday, 23 August 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1959” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2006 Bear Family CD Compilation

"…Don’t Bother Us…Leave Us Alone…We Almost Grown…”

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! Get even one and you’re screwed – you’ll have to own the lot.

"Blowing The Fuse - 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1959" is on Bear Family BCD 16714 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 (1959 has “The Exciting Lloyd Price” LP sleeve in colour), 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 1959 issue has 88-pages in its booklet (yes 88!) and the CD runs to a generous 79:54 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. Also, because of the extended playing time, there's usually only a one second space between each track, so it feels like you're listening to a jukebox of the time - or a good DJ cueing up song after song - seamlessly segueing one cool tune after another. And even the way-too-familiar tracks on here like "Kansas City", "The Twist" and "16 Candles" are sorted out by the next big plus...the beautifully clear sound...

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. When the guitar and drums kick-in about half through the opener “Try Me” by James Brown, the clarity is shocking – like you’ve never heard the song before.

But for me the biggest bonus is the new clarity to the Atlantic tracks (one of my favourite labels) like “I Cried A Tear” by LaVern Baker, “What I’d Say” by Ray Charles and “Poison Ivy” by The Coasters. It’s like they’ve been lifted out of their former muddiness – you can literally hear the squeaking of Ray Charles’ electric piano keys as he pounds away in its famous opening instrumental part. The huge sound continues on the two Dinah Washington and Brook Benton tracks too, while it’s difficult to imagine a better chronicler of a generation than Chuck Berry on “Almost Grown” – it’s just so good (lyrics above).

Obscurities and genius choices go to the boppin’ “Pretty Girls Everywhere” by Eugene Church, the chaotic doo-wop of The Impalas on “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)” while a truly great combo is to follow the overly-familiar but still hauntingly beautiful “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos with an instrumental called “The Clouds” by The Spacemen. You wouldn’t think it would work, but it ‘so’ does. Big Jay McNeely’s original of “There Is Something On Your Mind” is also here (there’s a stunning remake of it by Bob Marchan on 1960), so is the lovely “Sea Of Love” by Phil Phillips and it all ends in real style with the raucously joyful “You Better Know It” by Jackie Wilson sounding like it was recorded last week by an engineer who took pride and care in his work.

Some of the vocal group stuff sounds crude (recorded on meagre budgets), but more crucially, none of it sounds out of place. And a real smart inclusion is “Say Man” by Bo Diddley which some claim is the first ‘rap’ record in its style.

Although slightly different in layout, like the “Sweet Soul Music” series, the booklet is to die for. The text for the songs begins on Page 4 and ends on Page 85, 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 (Jackie Wilson at the end is a wow). 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 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 that’s about it! Mostly there’s just 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 - "1959" 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.

As you can tell, I'm properly taken aback - I cannot recommend these beautiful compilations enough. Well done to all involved...

Track List for the CD “Blowing The Fuse 1959”
(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. Try Me – JAMES BROWN And The FAMOUS FLAMES (Federal 12337)
2. So Fine – THE FIESTAS (Old Town 1062)
[Written by Johnny Otis]
3. Pretty Girls Everywhere – EUGENE CHURCH And The FELLOWS (Class 235)
4. I Cried A Tear – LaVERN BAKER (Atlantic 2007)
5. Stagger Lee – LLOYD PRICE With The DON COSTA ORCHESTRA (ABC-Paramount 9972)
6. Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home) – THE IMPALAS With The LeROY HOLMES ORCHESTRA (Cub 9022)
7. It’s Just A Matter Of Time – BROOK BENTON (Mercury 71394)
[Benton co-wrote this with Clyde Otis and Belford Hendricks]
8. Kansas City – WILBERT HARRISON (Fury 1023)
9. The Twist – HANK BALLARD And The MIDNIGHTERS (King 5171)
10. 16 Candles – THE CRESTS (Coed CO-506)
11. Farmer John – DON & DEWEY And Their Band (Speciality 659)
[Don Harris and Dewey Terry]
12. The Happy Organ – DAVE “BABY” CORTEZ (Clock 1009)
13. There Is Something On Your Mind – BIG JAY McNEELY And Band (Swingin’ 614)
14. You’re So Fine – THE FALCONS (Flick 001/Unart 2013)
[Featuring Eddie Floyd, Joe Stubbs and Mack Rice]
15. Almost Grown – CHUCK BERRY (Chess 1722)
16. What A Diff’rence A Day Makes – DINAH WASHINGTON (Mercury 71435)
17. There Goes My Baby – THE DRIFTERS (Atlantic 2025)
[Featuring Ben E. King]
18. What’d I Say, Parts 1 & 2 – RAY CHARLES And His Orchestra (Atlantic 2031)
19. Sea Of Love – PHIL PHILLIPS With The TWILIGHTS (Khoury’s 711/Mercury 71465)
20. Love Potion No. 9 – THE CLOVERS (United Artists 180)
[Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller]
21. Hey Little Girl – DEE CLARK (Abner 1029)
22. Shout, Parts 1 & 2 – THE ISLEY BROTHERS (RCA Victor 47-7588)
23. I Only Have Eyes For You – THE FLAMINGOS (End 1046)
24. The Clouds – THE SPACEMEN (Alton A 254)
25. You Got What It Takes – MARV JOHNSON (United Artists UA 185)
26. I Want To Walk You Home – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5606)
27. Say Man – BO DIDDLEY (Checker 931)
28. Poison Ivy – THE COASTERS (Atco 6146)
[Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller]
29. You Better Know It – JACKIE WILSON (Brunswick 55149)

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