Thursday, 16 September 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1955” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2005 Bear Family CD Compilation

"…Here Comes My Baby…Flashing A New Gold Tooth…"

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! But they’re absolutely ‘so’ worth it...

"Blowing The Fuse - 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1955" is on Bear Family BCD 16710 AS and was released April 2005. 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 (1955 has “Only You (And You Alone)" by The Platters on Mercury), 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 1955 issue has 78-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a generous 79:22 minutes.

Like all the other issues, 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 "Earth Angel" by The Penguins, “Ain’t It A Shame” by Fats Domino and "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard 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 (there is a noticeable rise in the hiss level between this and later volumes), the sound quality is uniformly GLORIOUS.

It opens with a fantastic-sounding double-whammy, “Tweedlee Dee” by LaVern Baker and “Reconsider Baby” by Lowell Fulson. I’ve had both of these classics on CD before, but the sound quality here is so much better – particularly the vocals. We’re then given incredibly clear Doo Wop in the form of The Moonglows on “Sincerely” – I’ve heard Steve Hoffman remasters of these in the late Eighties, but again here the quality is incredibly good. The Atlantic tracks are superlative – all sounding fresher than before – the bopping “I Got A Woman” by Ray Charles, the joyous dancer “Flip Flop & Fly” by Big Joe Turner (lyrics above) and the irresistible “Smokey Joe’s Café” by The Robins.

Obscurities and genius choices go to the echoed harmonica and drums of “You Don’t Have To Go” by Jimmy Reed, the Jackie Wilson-type gymnastic vocals of Nappy Brown on the bopping “Don’t Be Angry” and the first mention of the words “Doo Wop” on The Turbans “When You Dance”. Even tunes you’ve heard just too many times are new – the primal rhythms of “Bo Diddley” by Bo Diddley and “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry still sound like ground zero for everything in the following fitty years while the vocal clarity of Little Willie John’s Acapella vocal on “All Around The World” is astonishing – liable to put hairs on your chest. It’s a fabulous listen, the whole lot of it…

Although slightly different in layout, like the "Sweet Soul Music" series, the booklet is to die for. With an intro on Page 4 by Dave Booth, the text for the songs begins on Page 5 and ends on Page 78, 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 the 45 in its label bag (“What’cha Gonna Do” by Clyde McPhatter And The Drifters and “I Hear You Knocking” by Smiley Lewis are on Pages 35 and 58). Each song then has a small essay on its history by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT with knowledgeable contributions from BILL MILLAR and DAVE BOOTH and Marv Goldberg's online R&B site. 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, 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 - "1955" 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 1955"
(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. Tweedlee Dee – LaVERN BAKER And THE GLIDERS with Orchestra (Atlantic 45-1047)
2. Reconsider Baby – LOWELL FULSON (Checker 804)
3. Sincerely – THE MOONGLOWS (Chess 1581)
4. You Don't Have To Go – JIMMY REED and his Trio (Vee-Jay VJ-119)
5. The Wallflower – ETTA JAMES And “The Peaches” (Modern 947)
[aka “Roll With Me Henry” and “Dance With Me Henry”]
6. Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) – THE PENGUINS (DooTone 348)
7. I Got A Woman – RAY CHARLES and his Band (Atlantic 1050)
8. Ko Ko Mo – GENE & EUNICE with Jonesy’s Combo (Combo 64)
9. Pledging My Love – JOHNNY ACE with the Johnny Otis Orchestra (Duke 136)
10. My Babe – LITTLE WALTER and his Dukes (Checker 811)
11. Flip Flop And Fly – JOE TURNER and his Blues Kings (Atlantic 45-1053)
12. What'cha Gonna Do - CLYDE McPHATTER and The Drifters (Atlantic 45-1055)
13. Story Untold – THE NUTMEGS (Herald H-452)
14. Bo Diddley – BO DIDDLEY (Checker 814)
15. Don't Be Angry – NAPPY BROWN (Savoy 1155)
16. Why Don't You Write Me – THE JACKS (RPM 428)
17. It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day) – LOUIS BROOKS and his HI-TOPPERS with Earl Gaines On Vocals (Excello 2056)
18. Ain't It A Shame – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5348)
19. Feel So Good – SHIRLEY & LEE (Aladdin 3289)
20. Maybellene – CHUCK BERRY and his Combo (Chess 1604)
21. I Hear You Knocking – SMILEY LEWIS (Imperial 5356)
22. At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama) – THE EL DORADOS (Vee-Jay VJ-147)
23. Don't Start Me Talkin' – SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON (Checker 824)
24. Only You (And You Alone) – THE PLATTERS (Mercury 70633)
25. When You Dance – THE TURBANS (Herald H-458)
26. Tutti Frutti – LITTLE RICHARD and His Band (Specialty 561)
27. Hands Off – JAY McSHANN”S ORCHESTRA with Vocal By Priscilla Bowman (Vee-Jay VJ-155)
28. Smokey Joe's Cafe – THE ROBINS (Spark 122/Atco 6059)
29. All Around The World – LITTLE WILLIE JOHN (King 45-4818)

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