Sunday, 5 September 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1954” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2005 Bear Family CD Compilation

"...I Didn’t Want To Do It ...But She Sends Me So..."

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 – and I can’t state this enough – they are a new benchmark in terms of sound and packaging, and are intended as such…

"Blowing The Fuse - 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1954" is on Bear Family BCD 16709 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 (1954 has "Hearts Of Stone” by The Charms on DeLuxe), 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 1954 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a healthy 79:08 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 "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite" by The Spaniels, "I Just Want To Make Love To You" by Muddy Waters and "Honey Love" by The Drifters 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.

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.

It opens with a genre-mixing double-whammy, "Gee" by The Crows and "You're So Fine" by Little Walter - romantic Doo Wop followed by hard-hitting Blues and R'n'B. "Gee" sounds really clean, but the drums and guitar of Freddie Bellow and Jimmy Rogers on "You're So Fine" (as well as Walter's harmonica) are just huge - like they're going to invade your living room. The audio drops a notch on the infamously lo-fi Johnny Ace track "Saving My Love For You" - the hiss is more than apparent, but it's still the best I've ever heard this fateful song (he died in 1954). I'm not particularly enamoured with Faye Adams or Guitar Slim, but the saucy "I Didn't Want To Do It" by The Spiders is a dancer I'll never tire of (lyrics above). There's also a wonderful indication of changing times on Page 22 which pictures Buddy And Ella Johnson's wonderful "I'm Just A Fool" 45 - its Mercury Records label-bag proudly announcing that their 7" single product is "non-breakable" (unlike the shellac 78)!

Fans of the much-loved vocal group The Harp Tones will be shocked at the clarity of Willie Winfield's lead vocal on the churchy "Sunday Kind Of Love". The same applies to "Gloria" by The Cadillacs. The audio quality is just beautiful, incredibly clean - and even towards the end of the song where there are two or three clicking glitches on the tape, Bear Family hasn't edited them out - thereby keeping the integrity of the recording intact (as their blurb on transfers regularly says).

“Lovey Dovey” by The Clovers, “It Should Have Been Me” by Ray Charles and “Oh What A Dream” by Ruth Brown show why Atlantic was such a great label – and all of them sonically improved to my ears. The chipper dancefloor rhythms of "Work With Me Annie" with Hank Ballard’s great vocal work follow perfectly after Cozy Eggleston’s "Big Heavy" – a brilliant guitar and brass instrumental re-working of Louis Jordan’s “Blue Light Boogie”. Like so many cleverly written songs of the day, they reached out to the teen audience and their longings (especially the whites) and won them over.

Obscurities and genius choices go to a rare outing by Fats Domino’s principal songwriter Dave Bartholomew on "Jump Children” (a great bopper) and the hugely likeable dancer called “Hearts Of Stone” by The Charms who featured Otis Williams on Lead vocals (the tune is a re-working of a Doo Wop track by The Jewels on R&B Records from earlier in the year). And it all ends with a genuine gem – the huge blasting Saxophone of Joe Houston on his largely instrumental “All Night Long” – the kind of cool party tune that’s going to turn up in a hip-movie coming to you real soon.

Although slightly different in layout, like the "Sweet Soul Music" series, the booklet is to die for. With an intro on Page 4, the text for the songs begins on Page 5 and ends on Page 71, 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 bags graces an entire page (“I Feel So Bad” by Chuck Willis on Okeh and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” by Joe Turner on Atlantic are on Pages 43 and 48). 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 Pruter, Robert L. Campbell and Tom Kelly. 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. I just wish there was more of it…

Niggles - the glossy card sleeve is easy to smudge and I wish the booklet was 90 pages and not 72, but apart from that there's just way 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 - "1954" 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 1954"
(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. Gee – THE CROWS (Rama RR-5)
2. You’re So Fine – LITTLE WALTER And His Dukes (Checker 788)
[Features Willie Dixon on Bass and Jimmy Rogers on Guitar]
3. Saving My Love For You – JOHNNY ACE And Band (Duke 118)
4. I’ll Be True – FAYE ADAMS with Joe Morris Orchestra (Herald H-419)
5. I Didn’t Want To Do It – THE SPIDERS (Imperial 45-5265)
6. Sunday Kind Of Love – THE HARP-TONES Vocal Solo Willie Winfield (Bruce 101)
[Co-written with Louis Prima, aka “A Sunday Kind Of Love”]
7. I Do – THE “5” ROYALES With Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson And His Orchestra (Apollo 452)
8. I’m Just Your Fool – BUDDY JOHNSON And His Orchestra Vocal By Ella Johnson (Mercury 70251)
9. The Things That I Used To Do – GUITAR SLIM And His Band (Specialty 482)
10. Lovey Dovey – THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 969)
11. It Should Have Been Me – RAY CHARLES And His Orchestra (Atlantic 1021)
12. Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite – THE SPANIELS (Vee-Jay VJ-107)
13. Big Heavy – COZY EGGLESTON And His Combo (States S 133)
[A cover version of Louis Jordan’s “Blue Light Boogie” from 1950 on Decca]
14. Work With Me Annie – THE MIDNIGHTERS (Federal 12169)
[Written by and featuring Hank Ballard on Lead Vocals]
15. Jock-A-Mo – SUGAR BOY And His Cane Cutters (Checker 787]
[Sugar Boy Crawford – the song was originally an Indian chant first recorded in the 1940’s by Danny Barker’s Creole Cats as “Chockomo-Fendo-Hey”. It was later revised as “Iko Iko” by The Dixie Cups in 1965 and then covered as “Iko Iko” by many other artists since then – including most famously by Dr. John]
16. Just Make Love To Me – MUDDY WATERS And His Guitar (Chess 1571)
[78”s carried the title “Just Make Love To Me”, but it is of course more famously known as “I Just Want To Make Love To You”]
17. I Feel So Bad – CHUCK WILLIS (Okeh 7029)
18. Sh-Boom – THE CHORDS (Cat 104)
19. Shake, Rattle And Roll – JOE TURNER And His BLUES KINGS (Atlantic 1026)
20. Oh What A Dream – RUTH BROWN And Her Rhythmakers (Atlantic 45-1036)
[Her ‘Rhythmakers’ were The Drifters under another name]
21. Riot In Cell Block No. 9 – THE ROBINS (Spark 103)
[Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller]
22. Honey Love – THE DRIFTERS Featuring Clyde McPhatter (Atlantic 45-1029)
23. Evil is Goin’ On – HOWLIN’ WOLF (Chess 1575)
[Written by Willie Dixon]
24. Oop Shoop – SHIRLEY GUNTER And The Queens (Flair 1050)
25. Jump Children – DAVE BARTHOLOMEW (Imperial 5308)
26. Gloria – THE CADILLACS With The Jesse Powell Orchestra (Josie 765)
27. You Upset Me Baby – B.B. “Blues Boy” KING And His Orchestra (RPM 416)
28. Hearts Of Stone – THE CHARMS (DeLuxe 6062)
29. All Night Long – JOE HOUSTON (Money 203)

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