Sunday, 19 September 2010

“Blowing The Fuse – 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1953” by VARIOUS ARTISTS. A Review Of The Award-Winning 2005 Bear Family CD Compilation

"...Get Out That Big Ten-Inch...Record Of The Band That Played The Blues..."

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! I’ve laboured with all of these time-consuming detailed reviews because these reissues are the business...

"Blowing The Fuse - 29 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1953" is on Bear Family BCD 16708 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 (1953 has "Gabbin’ Blues" by Big Maybelle on Okeh), 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 1953 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a healthy 79:27 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 "Crying In The Chapel" by The Orioles, "Mess Around" by Ray Charles and "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer" by Amos Milburn are all 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.

Little prepares you for the clarity of Ruth Brown’s tambourine in the opening seconds of “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” which is followed by the fabulous “Baby Don’t Do It” from The “5” Royales – an equally astute lyric and infectious rocker. In fact throughout 1953, the tunes are about hitting someone, getting drunk or getting laid – or all three combined. Bull Moose Jackson’s staggeringly lewd "Big Ten-Inch Record" (lyrics above) and Jimmy Liggins’ mean old bottle song “Drunk” are perfect examples – masterpieces of the teasing double-entendre. Offset against this naughtiness is the almost clinging innocence of the Doo Wop songs (“The Clock” by Johnny Ace) - all sweetness and light and heartfelt longing. Its also noticeable just how far ahead of the game “Atlantic” was as a label – “Good Lovin’” by The Clovers, “Honey Hush” by Joe Turner and “Money Honey” by Clyde McPhatter And The Drifters are all such irresistible smashes that they sit as awkward bedfellows with the heavy-handed blues tunes like Earl Forest’s “Whoppin’ And Hollerin’” which seemed to struggle with the word ‘hit’. And having been treated to truly great sound, the obviously rare but dubbed from disc “I Had A Notion” by Joe Morris is sonically rough to say the least.

The women are either loving their men or killing them – “Sweetheart Of The Blues” Shirley is in lovely voice on “I’m Gone” by Shirley & Lee, while Rose Marie McCoy’s spoken answers in Big Maybelle’s “Gabbin’ Blues” are full of staggeringly catty insults and full-on slag-offs – you’d rather face a baseball bat than the wrath of this Mississippi belle. There’s also a sense to of changing times among some songs – “TV Is The Thing (This Year)” by Dinah Washington.

Genius choices go to “Marie” by The Four Tunes – a brilliant fast vocal-group cover of an Irving Berlin song that is part “Reet Petite” and part Platters on speed! Tiny Bradshaw’s “Soft” is a brassy instrumental that sounds like a World War II dancefloor shuffle – a really sweet discovery. Little Junior Parker’s “Feelin’ Good” is fantastic too – it’s half Bo Diddley, half John Lee Hooker boogie – a joke done in the studio that turned out to strike a new rocking-guitar chord. Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” is the absolute dog’s bollox - his huge-sounding amplified harmonica warbling through your speakers - mean and gritty – it’s astonishingly potent stuff.

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 69, 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 ("Hound Dog" by “Big Mama” Thornton on Peacock and "Please Don’t Leave Me" by Fats Domino on Imperial are on Pages 16 and 38). 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 - "1953" 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 1953"
(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. Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean – RUTH BROWN (Atlantic 986)
2. Baby Don't Do It – THE “5” ROYALES with Charlie Ferguson, His Tenor & Orchestra (Apollo 443)
3. Gabbin' Blues – BIG MAYBELLE (Okeh 6931)
[Duet vocals with Rose Marie McCoy who also co-wrote the song]
4. Whoopin' And Hollerin' – EARL FOREST with The Beale Streeters (Duke 108)
5. Hound Dog – WILLIE MAE “Big Mama” THORNTON with Kansas City Bill & Orchestra (Peacock 1612)
6. Big Ten-Inch Record – BULL MOOSE JACKSON with Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra (King 4580)
7. I'm Gone – SHIRLEY & LEE with Dave Bartholomew and his Orchestra (Aladdin 3153)
[Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee]
8. Please Love Me – B.B. KING and his Orchestra (RPM Records 386)
9. Soft – TINY BRADSHAW (King 4577)
10. Dream Girl – JESSE And MARVIN (Specialty 447)
[Jesse Belvin and Marvin Phillips]
11. I'm Mad – WILLIE MABON and His Combo (Chess 1538)
12. I Wanna Know – THE DU DROPPERS (RCA Victor 20/47-5229)
13. The Clock – JOHNNY ACE and The Beale Streeters (Duke 112)
14. Get It – THE ROYALS (Federal 45-12133)
15. Please Don't Leave Me – FATS DOMINO (Imperial 5240)
16. Crying In The Chapel – THE ORIOLES (Jubilee 5122)
17. Hittin' On Me – BUDDY JOHNSON And His Orchestra, Vocal by Ella Johnson (Mercury 70116)
18. Good Lovin' – THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 1000)
19. Mess Around – RAY CHARLES And His Orchestra (Atlantic 999)
20. Shake A Hand – FAYE ADAMS With The Joe Morris Orchestra (Herald H-416)
21. One Scratch, One Bourbon, One Beer – AMOS MILBURN and his Aladdin Chickenshackers (Aladdin 3197)
22. Honey Hush – JOE TURNER And His Band (Atlantic 1001)
23. Blues With A Feeling – LITTLE WALTER And His Jukes (Checker 780)
24. Marie – THE FOUR TUNES (Jubilee 5128)
25. I Had A Notion – JOE MORRIS ORCHESTRA Vocal By Al Savage (Herald H-417)
26. Feelin' Good – LITTLE JUNIOR’S BLUE FLAMES (Sun 187)
27. TV Is The Thing (This Year) – DINAH WASHINGTON (Mercury 70214)
28. Money Honey – CLYDE McPHATTER And The Drifters (Atlantic 1006)
29. Drunk – JIMMY LIGGINS And His 3-D Music (Specialty 470)

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