Tuesday, 28 September 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 28 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1951” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2005 Bear Family CD Compilation

"…I’m Looking For A Chick That Only Drinks Lemonade…I’m Tired Of Being Broke The Day After I Get Paid..."

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 quality 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! But I've laboured with all of these time-consuming detailed reviews because these reissues are the business...they really are.

"Blowing The Fuse - 28 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1951" is on Bear Family BCD 16706 AS and was released April 2005 in Germany. Each US-based yearly compilation comes in a 3-way foldout card digipak sleeve. The left flap pictures an original record relevant to the year (1951 has "Little Red Rooster" by Margie Day on Dot), the centre flap holds a 70 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 1951 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a healthy 78:24 minutes.

Compiler 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. And even the way-too-familiar tracks on here like "Rocket “88”" by Jackie Brenston and "I’m In The Mood" by John Lee Hooker are all sorted out by the next big plus...the massively improved sound…

Bear Family have gotten all the ORIGINAL master tapes from each record company (or the best disc available) and their resident expert JURGEN CRASSER has mastered them with care - and given their age and wildly varying sources, the sound is uniformly GLORIOUS.

Six years after the Second World War, America wanted to rock - so it's not surprising that so many songs in 1951 were about drink, sex and partying (with an occasional nod towards their consequences in between). The proceedings open with a superlative double-whammy – “Bad, Bad Whiskey” by Amos Milburn and “Little Joe’s Boogie” by Joe Liggins – both with stunning sound and infectious dancefloor rhythms. Dark-edged blues then follow in the “…long distance” moaner “Telephone Blues” by Floyd Dixon and the lingering chill of “…my brother’s in Korea…” on “Black Night” by Charles Brown. Then it’s back to more boozy tunes like “Bloodshot Eyes” by Wynonie Harris - whose style and voice Louis Prima mimicked almost phrase for phrase 5 years later on his Capitol debut album - while Louis Jordan’s wonderfully catty “Lemonade” has a very funny monetary take on the demon-drink (lyrics above).

Genius choices - "Chica Boo" is an instrumental rumba shuffle beautifully arranged and played by one of the periods great unsung-heroes – Lloyd Glenn (the 78” is also pictured on Page 40), while the brass on “I’m Just Waiting For You” by Lucky Millender is likely to blow your speakers out - so powerful, so clear. “I Got Loaded” by Peppermint Harris on Aladdin is probably one of the best celebrations of getting drunk ever - it was later covered by The Cadets with the stunning bass vocals of Will “Dub” Jones on lead.

Criminally forgotten gems go to "Sixty-Minute Man" by The Dominoes, which not only dominated almost half of the year it was such a huge hit – but some say is one of the most important records ever made because it was ‘the’ crossover song for black music into the white charts. With Bill Brown heading up the deep bass vocals and Clyde McPhatter on background operatic yelps, it also used the words “rock” and “roll” together in the same song (The Boswell Sisters used the combo of words in 1934, but The Dominoes track is the one most associated with the pairing). Somehow sensing its importance, the 78” is pictured in its Federal bag on Page 33.

Vocal Group collectors and Blues enthusiasts will flip for the sound quality on “The Glory Of Love” by The Five Keys and “I’m In The Mood” by John Lee Hooker – clarity on both like I’ve never heard before. My only slight disappointment is that excepting Margie Day, 'women' singers are entirely absent from 1951 (unlike 1952 onwards).

Although slightly different in layout, like the "Sweet Soul Music" series, the booklet is to die for. The Treniers grace Page 3 (and the front sleeve), there’s an intro on Page 4 with the text for the songs beginning on Page 5 and ending on Page 70, so there's almost no wasted space. Each artist is pictured using quality publicity shots, and every now and then, a beautiful full colour plate of lesser-seen singles and their label bag graces an entire page ("I Got Loaded" by Peppermint Harris on Aladdin and "Fool, Fool, Fool” by The Clovers on Atlantic are on Pages 49 and 66). Each song then has an essay on its history by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT with knowledgeable contributions from BILL MILLAR, DAVE BOOTH, Marv Goldberg's online R&B site, Robert L. Campbell, Red Saunders Research Project, Larry Cohn, Walter DeVenne and Bernd Matheja (disc pictures supplied by John Tefteller and Victor Pearlin). 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.

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 - "1951" 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. Well done to all involved...

Track List for the CD "Blowing The Fuse 1951"
(Label & Catalogue Number For The US 78"/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. Bad, Bad Whiskey – AMOS MILBURN and his Aladdin Chickenshackers (Aladdin 3068)
2. Little Joe’s Boogie – JOE LIGGINS and his Honeydrippers (Specialty 379)
3. Telephone Blues – FLOYD DIXON with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers featuring Oscar Moore (Aladdin 3075)
4. Rockin’ With Red – PIANO RED (RCA 22/50-0099)
5. Lemonade – LOUIS JORDAN and his Tympany Five (Decca 27324)
[Featuring Bill David on Organ]
6. I Will Wait – THE FOUR BUDDIES (Savoy 769)
7. Rockin’ Blues – THE JOHNNY OTIS ORCHESTRA with Mel Walker (Savoy 766)
8. Little Red Rooster – MARGIE DAY with the Griffin Brothers’ Orchestra (Dot 1019)
9. Black Night – CHARLES BROWN and his Band (Aladdin 3076)
10. I’m Waiting Just For You – LUCKY MILLINDER and his Orchestra, Vocal by Annisteen Allen and John Carol (King 4453)
11. Rocket “88” – JACKIE BRENSTON and his Delta Cats (Chess 1458)
12. Long Distance Call – MUDDY WATERS and his Guitar (Chess 1452)
13. Sixty-Minute Man – THE DOMINOES (Federal 12022)
[Featuring Bill Brown on Lead Vocals, Clyde McPhatter on Backing Vocals]
14. Tend To Your Business – JAMES WAYNE (Sittin’ In 588)
15. Chains Of Love – JOE TURNER with Vann “Piano Man” Walls and his Orchestra (Atlantic 939)
[On this 78” ‘Van’ is spelt with two n’s’ in error; on all subsequent issues it’s spelt ‘Van’]
16. Chica Boo – LLOYD GLENN (Swingtime 254)
17. Go! Go! Go! – THE TRENIERS (Okeh 6804)
18. The Glory Of Love – THE FIVE KEYS (Aladdin 3099)
19. I Got Loaded – “PEPPERMINT” HARRIS with Maxwell Davis and his ALL-STARS (Aladdin 3097)
20. Castle Rock – JOHNNY HODGES and his Orchestra (Mercury 8944)
[Featuring Al Sears On Tenor Saxophone]
21. Eyesight To The Blind – THE LARKS (Apollo 427)
22. Bloodshot Eyes – WYNONIE HARRIS (King 4461)
[Featuring Big John Greer on Saxophone]
23. '’T’ 99 Blues – JIMMIE NELSON and The Peter Rabbit Trio (RPM 325)
24. Walkin’ The Chalk Line – TINY BRADSHAW (King 4457)
25. I’m In The Mood – JOHN LEE HOOKER (Modern 835)
26. Fool, Fool, Fool – THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 944)
27. Flamingo – EARL BOSTIC and his Orchestra (King 4475)
28. How Many More Years – HOWLIN’ WOLF (Chess 1479)

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