Monday, 23 August 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 31 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1960” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2006 Bear Family CD Compilation

"…You Can Have My Husband…But Please Don’t Mess With My Man…"

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 - 31 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1960" is on Bear Family BCD 16715 AS and was released April 2006. Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures a 7" single in its label bag relevant to the year (1960 has “Handy Man” by Jimmy Jones on Cub Records – covered by James Taylor in the Seventies), 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 1960 issue has 87-pages in its booklet (yes 87!) and the CD runs to a generous 78:43 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 "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Spoonful" and "Walking To New Orleans" 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. The clarity of the Harmonica on Buster Brown’s infectious “Fannie Mae” is incredible as is the shuffling drum-brushes and vocals on Dee Clarks’ “How About That”. “The Madison Time Part 1” by THE RAY BRYANT COMBO combines great sound with a seldom-heard gem, the kind of hipster tune you’d hear playing out the credits of an episode of HBO’s “Mad Men”. I’ve heard both Jerry Butler’s “He Don’t Love You” and Dinah Washington and Brook Benton’s “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” sound really great on other CDs, but again – here they’ve just got that little extra oomph.

Genius choices go to Irma Thomas’s infidelity song “Don’t Mess With My Man” (lyrics above) and the follow of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” after the operatic vocals of Jackie Wilson on “Doggin’ Around” is a very clever combo. Then there’s the cross-dressing singer Bobby Marchan’s extraordinarily cheesy remake of “There Is Something On Your Mind, Part 2” - a melodrama talking song about shooting your baby and your best friend who’s been… well, let's just say the guy deserved to get shot. Big Jay McNeely’s more sedate original is included on the 1959 set.

The only two that sound rough are “Heartbreak (It’s Hurting Me)” by Jon Thomas and “I Want To Know” by SugarPie DeSanto, but both are properly soulful songs and foretell the music of the decade to come – so smart inclusions for the year 1960.

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 86, 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. 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 some of the tracks are not to my liking, but 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 - "1960" 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 1960”
(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. Fannie Mae - BUSTER BROWN (Fire 1008)
2. Handy Man – JIMMY JONES (Cub K 9049)
3. Money (That’s What I Want) – BARRETT STRONG (Anna 1111/Tamla 54027)
4. I’ll Take Care Of You – BOBBY BLAND (Duke 314)
[Written by Brook Benton]
5. How About That – DEE CLARK (Abner 1032)
6. Just A Little Bit – ROSCO GORDON (Vee Jay VJ 332)
7. Baby (You've Got What It Takes) – DINAH WASHINGTON & BROOK BENTON (Mercury 71565)
8. Doggin' Around – JACKIE WILSON (Brunswick 55166)
9. Baby, What You Want Me To Do – JIMMY REED (Vee Jay VJ 333)
10. Let The Little Girl dance – BILLY BLAND (Old Town 1076)
11. Don’t Mess With My Man – IRMA THOMAS (Ron 328)
12. I Love The way You Love – MARV JOHNSON (United Artists 208)
[Co-write featuring Berry Gordy]
13. All I Could Do Was Cry – ETTA JAMES (Argo 5359)
14. The Madison Time, Part 1 – RAY BRYANT COMBO (Columbia 4-41628)
15. Think – JAMES BROWN and THE FAMOUS FLAMES (Federal 12370)
16. BOBBY MARCHAN – There Is Something On Your Mind, Part 2 (Fire 1022)
[The original version of this by Big Jay McNeely is on the 1959 set]
17. Ooh Poo Pah Doo, Part 2 – JESSIE HILL (Minit 607)
18. Heartbreak (It’s Hurtin’ Me) – JON THOMAS And ORCHESTRA (Paramount 45-10122)
19. Walking To New Orleans – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5675)
20. Spoonful – HOWLIN’ WOLF (Chess 1762)
[Written by Willie Dixon]
21. Tonight’s The Night – THE SHIRELLES (Scepter 1208)
23. I Want To Know – SUGARPIE DeSANTO and PEE WEE KINGSLEY BAND (Veltone 103/Check 103)
24. Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go – HANK BALLARD And The MIDNIGHTERS (King 5400)
25. He Will Break Your Heart – JERRY BUTLER (Vee Jay VJ 354)
[Butler co-wrote this with Curtis Mayfield and Calvin Carter]
26. Kiddio – BROOK BENTON (Mercury 71652)
27. A Fool In Love – IKE and TINA TURNER (Sue 730)
28. Stay – MAURICE WILLIAMS And The ZODIACS (Herald 552)
29. Save The Last Dance For Me – THE DRIFTERS (Atlantic 2071)
30. You Talk Too Much – JOE JONES (Ric 972/Roulette 4304)
31. New Orleans – GARY U.S. BONDS (Legrand 1003)

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