Wednesday, 8 July 2015

"Blowing The Fuse - 26 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1945" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2004 Bear Family CD Compilation, Volume 1 of 16, Jurgen Crasser Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…I Went Downtown To Buy You Some Hair...As The Good Lord Never Gave You None..."

Bear Family's truly fabulous "Blowing The Fuse" series of CD compilations chronicles the transition of minority ghettoized Blues into national Rhythm 'n' Blues and stretches across 16 individual single-disc volumes that cover the years 1945 to 1960. Released across 2004 and 2005 –"Blowing The Fuse" was then followed in 2008 and 2009 by Bear’s equally magnificent "Sweet Soul Music" series of 15 sets from 1961 to 1975 - complimented in turn by their spiritual and musical partners - 15 volumes of Vocal Group sets called "Street Corner Symphonies" covering 1939 to 1963 (released 2012 and 2013). I suppose you could argue that I just say, "Buy the lot man!" in a very loud voice - but bluntly they're so good - each deserves a thorough review (and that’s what I’ve done). So here goes with Volume 1 of the R&B Series "Blowing The Fuse"…

"Blowing The Fuse - 26 R&B Classics That Rocked The Jukebox In 1945" is on Bear Family BCD 16700 AS (Barcode 4000127167002) and was released November 2004 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 (1945 has "Harlem Nocturne" by Johnny Otis on Savoy), 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 15 volumes of "Sweet Soul Music" and "Street Corner Symphonies" - each of the "Blowing The Fuse" 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). Siding the text and black/white publicity photos are uber rare trade adverts and of course those equally scarce 78’s in their lovely label bags. This 1945 issue has 72-pages in its booklet and the CD runs to a fulsome 78:06 minutes.

Sourcing the best disc available (or occasional tape) Bear’s Audio Engineer genius JURGEN CRASSER has mastered each cut with care. Depending on the condition of the disc – the audio varies wildly - and as you can imagine it’s a case of astonishingly clean transfer one moment and hiss & cackle-laden version the next. Overall though I’m more than pleased with what I’m hearing...all of it imbibed with huge musical and lyrical talent and a sheer sense of to "hell-with-it-all!" – let's have some fun...

The booklet is to die for. 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 page plate of lesser-seen trade adverts, or a rare 78” in its label bag (long ago American Record labels like Majestic, Bluebird, Victor, Decca, Exclusive, Philo and others). Each song then has an essay on its history by noted writer COLIN ESCOTT and because the booklet allows him to spread out on each song, the details come thick and fast - it's a fabulously entertaining and informative read.

Volume 1 of 16 opens with what many believe to be the first Independent R&B release of importance – the lo-fi but emotionally charged "I Wonder" by the returned WW II soldier from Tennessee Private Cecil Gant. It was recorded by other bigger names that year under more professional studio circumstances – but something in Gant’s garage-recorded version tapped into the longing of the populace after the war and made it a No. 1 hit on the Harlem Parade (Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin recorded versions of it years later). There’s a hint of the 78" being played but the audio is surely best ever for this historic recording.

Speaking of impressive audio - the Louis Jordan cut "Caldonia" is incredibly clean and full of vim - as is the stunning Blues of "Things Have Changed" by T-Bone Walker and "Left A Good Deal In Mobile" by Herb Jeffries – but the acoustic and piano boogie of Sister Rosetta Tharpe is covered in cackle (that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant and actually one of the highlights on here). Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "Rock Me Mamma" is beautifully clear and powerful for it. The hilarious Lucky Millinder boozy parable "Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well" where Deacon Jones wants his sinners to repent (but first he's got to find out whose spiking his holy water font) occupies the middle ground. The track features Wynonie "Mr. Blues" Harris on his debut vocal and audio-wise is a half-way house – some clicking and clacking on the vocal passages but thereafter mostly clean. The World War II brass laden shuffle of "That's The Stuff You Gotta Watch" by Buddy Johnson features a cautionary vocal by Ella Johnson about wandering eyes that lead to wandering hands...

Other winners include the Hadda Brooks boogie-woogie piano instrumental "Swingin' The Boogie" – a happy song that transcends its rough transfer. Piano blues kicks in with the fabulous “Things Have Changed” from Big Maceo (real name Major Merriweather) with superb sound – very Curtis Jones (Tampa Red plays the guitar). Criminally unacknowledged great R&B voice comes in the shapely warm tones of Herb Jeffries who recorded "Left A Good Deal In Mobile" apparently as the same session as the legendary "Honeydripper" track by Joe Liggins (also on this disc). I love, love, love "I'll Be Home Soon" by The Golden Gate Quartet - a vocal group in the vein of the Ink Spots. Think the beginning of The Shawshank Redemption where Andy sits in his car drunk listening to the radio about to commit a crime he'll pay for forever  - the song has beautiful deep longing tones and none other than Elvis Presley instinctively knew that it would suit his vocals (he does a gorgeous version of "I'll Be Home Soon" on his 1960 RCA album masterpiece "Elvis Is Back"). It's more Vocal Groups than driving R&B but I applaud its inclusion here. "I Ain't Mad At You Pretty Baby" was written by Gatemouth Moore about a woman who whacked her lover in a drunken tiff across the face with her stiletto and out popped the song title. Favourites include the Joe Turner boppin feel to "Be-Baba-Leba" by Helen Humes - which is very Little Esther territory and the instrumental finisher "Beulah's Boogie" which like Glenn Miller announces that the battles are over and its time to dance...

To sum up - even though they were initially expensive as imports - as the years have gone by they've gone down in price (some online retailers via Amazon or eBay are selling them for about £8.50). But I can't help thinking that once long-time collectors actually get their hands on even one of these compilations (no matter what the date) - they'll be irresistibly hooked and need to own the lot. 

For the casual buyer just looking for a great one-stop account of R&B Music for a given year - "1945" is 'the' place to start. I've collected the whole set...and they're amongst my favourite reissues...

TRACK LIST for "Blowing The Fuse - 1949" (78:06 minutes):
Volume 1 of 16
Song Title, ARTIST (Record Label and US 78” Catalogue Number, A-Side or B-Side)

1. I Wonder – PRIVATE CECIL GANT (Gilt Edge 500, A)
2. Somebody's Gotta Go – COOTIE WILLIAMS and his Orchestra (Vocals by Eddie Vinson) (Majestic 7184, A)
3. S.K. Blues, Part 1 – JOE TURNER with Pete Johnson’s All Stars (National 9010, A)
4. Tippin' In – ERSKIN HAWKINS and his Orchestra (Victor 20-1639, A)
5. Strange Things Happening Every Day – SISTER ROSETTA THARPE (Decca 8669, A)
6. Rock Me Mamma – ARTHUR "Big Boy" CRUDUP (Bluebird 34-0705, A and reissued on Victor 20-2976, A)
7. V Day Stomp – THE FOUR CLEFS (Vocal Refrain by Johnny Green) (Victor 20-1656, A)
8.  Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well? – LUCKY MILLINDER and his Orchestra (Vocal Chorus by Wynonie 'Mr. Blues' Harris and Congregation) (Decca 18674, A)
9. Caldonia – LOUIS JORDAN and His Tympany Five (Decca 8670, A)
10. Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Nite – FIVE RED CAPS (Joe Davis 7133, A)
11. That's The Stuff You Gotta Watch – BUDDY JOHNSON and His Orchestra (Decca 8671, A)
12. I Will Be Home Again – GOLDEN GATE QUARTET (Okeh 6741, A)
13. The Honeydripper, Part 1 – JOE LIGGINS and His Honeydrippers (Exclusive Master Series 207, A)
14. Jimmy's Blues – COUNT BASIE and His Orchestra (Vocal Chorus by Jimmy Rushing) (Columbia 36831, A)
15. Swingin' The Boogie – HADDA BROOKS (Modern 102, A)
16. Sail On Boogie – T-BONE WALKER with Marl Young and his Orchestra (Rhumboogie 4000, B-side of “I’m Still In Love With You”)
17. Things Have Changed – BIG MACEO (Bluebird 34-0735, A)
18. Left A Good Deal In Mobile – HERB JEFFRIES with Joe Liggins' Honeydrippers (Exclusive 208, A)
19. I Ain't Mad At You Pretty Baby – GATEMOUTH MOORE with Dallas Bartley and his Small Town Boys (National 6001, A)
20. Blues At Sunrise – "IVORY" JOE HUNTER with Johnny Moore’s 3 Blazers (Ivory 56, A, and Exclusive Master Series 209, A and further reissued on Dot 1036, A)
21. Baby Look At You – WYNONIE 'Blues' HARRIS with Jack McVea and his All Stars (Apollo 361, A)
22. Be-Baba-Leba – HELEN HUMES with the Bill Doggett Octet (Philo P 106, A and Aladdin 106, A)
23. Harlem Nocturne – JOHNNY OTIS, his drums and his Orchestra (Excelsior 142, A)
24. Garfield Avenue Blues – JAY McSHANN and the Sextet (Premier 29010, A, and reissued on Mercury 8002, A)
25. If It's Good – JULIA LEE with the Tommy Douglas Orchestra (Premier 29012, A, reissued on Mercury 8005, A)

26. Beulah's Boogie – LIONEL HAMPTON and his Orchestra (Decca 18719, A)

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