Tuesday, 16 August 2016

"Street Corner Symphonies Volume 4: 1952" by VARIOUS ARTISTS (2012 Bear Family CD – Marcus Heumann Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Won't You Have Mercy Baby..."

Hot on the heels of their definitive "Blowing The Fuse" and "Sweet Soul Music" CD Series (15 volumes to each genre of R'n'B and Soul) comes Bear Family’s Vocal Group attack - 15 discs spanning 1939 to 1963. Volumes 1 to 10 hit the shops in May and October 2012 and the last five in the spring of 2013. And while critics will argue that Vocal Group music has already been done to death by Rhino (3 x 4CD Box Sets across the decades) and a mountain of other cheapo labels taking advantage of the 50-year copyright law - this is the first time someone reputable (other than Rhino) have had a go - and typically these German-issued Bear Family CDs are gorgeous in all the right places - presentation and audio. 'Have Mercy Baby' because 'This Is Where The Heartaches Begin' if you know what I’m saying 'Rockin' Daddy-O'....

Released May 2012 in Germany - "Street Corner Symphonies Volume 4: 1952" by VARIOUS ARTISTS on Bear Family BCD 17282 AR (Barcode 4000127172822) breaks down as follows (I've provided American single catalogue numbers on all tracks - 85:21 minutes):

1. Have Mercy Baby – THE DOMINOES (Federal 12068, A)
2. The Wheel Of Fortune – THE CARDINALS (Atlantic 958, A)
3. Be True – THE VOCALEERS (Red Robin 113, A)
4. Baby Don't Do It – THE '5' ROYALES with Charlie Ferguson – His Tenor and Orchestra (Apollo 443, A)
5. That's When Your Heartaches Begin – BILLY BUNN and HIS BUDDIES (RCA Victor 20-4657, A)
6. One Mint Julep – THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 963, A)
7. But I Forgive You – THE SERENADERS (Coral 65093, A)
8. Every Beat Of My Heart – THE ROYALS (Federal 12064, A)
9. Rock Me All Night Long – THE RAVENS (Mercury 8291, A)
10. Hold Me – THE LARKS featuring Eugene Mumford (Apollo 1194, A)
11. That's The Way It's Gonna Be – THE FOUR KNIGHTS (Capitol 2195, A)
12. Beside You – THE SWALLOWS (King 4525, A)
13. You're Part Of Me – THE FOUR BUDDIES (Savoy 845, A)
14. Don't Cry Baby – THE ORIOLES with Buddy Lucas Orchestra (Jubilee 5092, A)
15. Let's Give Love Another Chance – THE FOUR TUNES (RCA Victor 20-4968, A)
16. The Last Of The Good Rocking Men – THE FOUR JACKS (Federal 12087, A)
17. Make Me Thrill Again – THE MARYLANDERS with Buddy Lucas and His Band Of Tomorrow (Jubilee 5091, A)
18. Rug Cutter – THE FOUR BLAZES (United 127, A)
19.  Don't Be Angry – THE SULTANS (Jubilee 5077, B-side to “Blues At Dawn”)
20. A Beggar For Your Kisses – THE DIAMONDS (Atlantic 981, A)
21. Can’t Do Sixty No More – THE DU-DROPPERS with Ben Smith’s Quintet (Red Robin 108, A)
22. I've Lost – THE ENCHANTERS (Jubilee 5080, A)
23. Flame In My Heart – THE CHECKERS (King 4558, A)
24. Serve Another Round – THE FIVE KEYS (Aladdin 3158, A)
25. One More Time – THE MEL-O-DOTS featuring Ricky Wells (Apollo 1192, A)
26. You're My Inspiration – THE FIVE CROWNS (Rainbow 179, A)
27. Rockin' Daddy-O – THE HEARTBREAKERS (RCA Victor 20-4662, A)
28. Later – THE FOUR FLAMES (Speciality 429, A)
29. That's What You're Doing To Me – THE DOMINOES (Federal 12059, A)
30. Stormy Weather – THE FIVE SHARPS (Jubilee 5104, A)
31. Ting-A-Ling – THE CLOVERS (Atlantic 969, A)

The 82-page non-detachable booklet is a feast of indepth liner notes on each release by Grammy-winning writer and lifelong fan BILL DAHL. Let's put it this way - there's a 'Photo Captions' index on Page 77 that tells who's who in the black and white publicity shots that accompany most (not all) of the photos. It actually lists the singer's names  - who else but Bear would do this? The text is also peppered with pictures of those old American 45 labels like Atlantic, Red Robin, King, Jubilee, Savoy, Mercury, RCA-Victor, Coral, Apollo and Specialty (one pic is the uber rare 'red vinyl' version of "Baby Don't Do It" by The '5' Royales on Apollo which books at $400.00) and an occasional trade advert (The Four Buddies at the Circle Theatre in October 1952). The CD repros the rare "Don’t Be Angry" by The Sultans on Jubilee and the spine makes up a single photograph of the series name when you line up all 15 volumes alongside each other on a shelf. Long-standing and trusted names like Walter DeVenne, Nico Feuerbach, Victor Pearlin, Colin Escott and Billy Vera have been involved in the research - while Audio Engineer MARCUS HEUMANN did the superb mastering (some Disc/Metalpart transfers by Victor Pearlin and Lothar Blank). The sources (as you can imagine) differ wildly but to my ears the sound quality is improved on everything that I've heard before (including some of the Rhino box sets). The audio and presentation are top-class here (a norm for Bear Family)...

With a huge 31 tracks and a format-busting playing time of 85:21 minutes – you certainly can't accuse this CD of scrimping it. It's also noticeable how many are Independent labels without whom none of this fabulous music would have seen the light of day. It opens on an upbeat R&B tip with the fantastic boogie of "Have Mercy Baby" by The Dominoes lead by the vocals of the legendary Clyde McPhatter. It was a smash and a huge influence on the young Smokey Robinson who explains in the liner notes how McPhatter's high voice (which seemed to win over the girls) gave him hope. "Wheel Of Fortune" is a known Atlantic Vocal Groups rarity and here it sounds spiffing (really clean). "Be True" by The Vocaleers is a pleader while the shuffling boogie of "Baby Don't Do It" by The '5' Royales is classy R&B. "That's Where Your Heartaches Begin" sounds like a post WWII smoocher – a gorgeous vocal by Billy Bunn who clearly admired The Ink Spots the most.

If I was to pinpoint one song on here that shows up how good the Audio Transfer is – it would be the beautifully recorded "Every Beat Of My Heart" by The Royals (written by Johnny Otis). It's just Lead Baritone Charles Sutton and the close harmony voices of The Royals and a tiny amount of chimes. It sold nada on release and is correspondingly rare as the proverbial hen's molars with a stock copy booked at $1500 while a blue vinyl version will set you back a paltry $3000. And here it is sounded minty fresh. "Hold Me" by The Larks is equally lovely with a top vocal from Eugene Mumford. A welcome upping of the pace comes with The Four Knights and their R&B "That's The Way It's Gonna Be" (a bit rough on the audio though) and then back to pleaders from The Swallows and The Four Buddies. There can't be too many genre enthusiasts who don't hear The Orioles and get a bit weak at the knees – but actually better is the genius inclusion of "Let's Give Love Another Chance" by The Four Tunes where the velvet immaculate voice of Baritone William Best (who also doubled on Guitar) makes the song (this is seriously classy stuff).

Although the transfer is a little rough - I'm loving "The Last Of The Good Rocking Men" – a fantastic R&B shuffler very similar to "Sixty Minute Man" by The Dominoes only with Will 'Dub' Jones on Lead Vocals (the actual lead is the deep voiced Ellison White who used to be with The Wings Over Jordan Choir). What a find and I can completely understand its inclusion despite the crackle. "Rug Cutter" is a Duke Ellington cover by The Four Blazes sounding not unlike Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five – wickedly enjoyable. We then get a masterpiece of the genre and a flipside rarity – "Don't Be Angry" by The Sultans (written by Lead Vocalist Clyde Wright). On release it was hooked up with a faster "Blues At Dawn" on the A - but it's the B that draws gasps and I'm not surprised this beautiful pleader ("...don't be angry...let me stay") commands $800+ on the collector’s market. Love the witty R&B dancer "Can't Do Sixty No More" by The Du Droppers where our hero advises his woman that even though he loves her he can’t do that speed anymore...so a short thirty minutes will have to suffice (oh dear).

"Flame In My Heart" and "Serve Another Round" by The Checkers and The Five Keys are Vocal Group and R&B – even if the Five Keys track is a bit rough around the transfer edges. Time to dance with The Mel-O-Dots and The Dominoes who give us infectious boppers "One More Time" and "That's What You're Doing To Me" where Clyde tells us he's "...gonna rock...gonna roll..." - and who am I to disagree. The Five Sharps cut is very rough ("Stormy Weather") clearly dubbed from a worn disc - but the finisher is the wickedly cool and altogether better-sounding "Ting-A-Ling” by The Clovers On Atlantic. To sum up – a hugely enjoyable entry in the series of 15 with many standout moments – the kind of compilation enthusiasts will love.

Niggles - they're too expensive as singles discs and perhaps they should have been doubles because real collectors will have more than a few titles on offer here. Bear Family will argue 'but not in this sound quality or presentation' - and they'd have a point.

Presented to us with love and affection by a company that cares about forgotten voices that shouldn’t be forgotten. What a sweetheart of a compilation and another gold standard from Bear... 

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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