Recent Ace Gems Part Four - Articles - Soundblab

Recent Ace Gems Part Four

by Ian Johnston Rating: Release Date:

Another quick round up of superb recent releases from one of the best reissue labels in the world - Ace.

1. COME TOGETHER: BLACK AMERICA SINGS LENNON & McCARTNEY - VARIOUS ARTISTS

Ace's excellent follow up to their How Many Roads - Black America Sings Bob Dylan shows how vital African American performers took on the Fab Four, premier songsmiths of the 1960's British Invasion, and, in most cases, won. It is fascinating listening to how the soulful undercurrent latent in many Lennon & McCartney numbers, no doubt gleaned from their youth endlessly playing Atlantic and Motown singles, is brought to the fore here.

The 24-track compilation, compiled and liner-noted by Tony Rounce, kicks off in fine style with Chubby 'The Twist' Checker's barnstorming reading of 'Back in the USSR' (1969). Comrade Checker's rendition is so enthusiastic, J Edger Hoover's FBI probably opened a file on him the minute it was released. Rounce relates that the song was so strong that it nearly resuscitated his long moribund career in the USA. The White Album was obviously popular with black artists, inspiring Fats Domino's rollicking and perhaps uncomprehending 'Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (1969), Lowell 'Tramp' Fulson's 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road' (1969), Billy 'the latter-day fifth Beatle' Preston's 'Blackbird' (1973) and The Moments bizarre but affective 'Rocky Raccoon' (1970). It's a pity that Funkadelic were never similarly stimulated to tackle 'Helter Skelter'.

Little Richard's strutting 'I Saw Her Standing There' (1970) graphically illustrates where The Beatles' trademark falsetto "oooooooh's" came from; Al Green makes 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' (1969) his own; Memphis blues legend Junior Parker mines a soulful seam in 'Lady Madonna' (1970); Otis Redding electrifyingly testifies on 'Day Tripper' (a previously unreleased take from 1966, in a similar vain to his cover of The Stones' 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' the preceding year), and Atlantic's Black Heat steer 'Drive My Car' (1975) straight to funky town.
On the subject of Beatles covers, hopefully one day Ace will reissue the 1968 Brunswick LP, Little Joe Sure Can Sing: It features a young Joe Goodfellas Pesci singing unforgettable versions of 'Got to Get You into My Life', 'The Fool on the Hill' and 'Fixing a Hole.'

2. SHATTERED DREAMS: FUNKY BLUES 1968 -1978 - VARIOUS ARTISTS

Compiled and liner noted by Dean Rudland, the gripping Shattered Dreams compilation reflects upon how sophisticated black American urban blues artists adapted their sound, due to the changing tastes in their audience and the all pervading sense that the hopes and aspirations of black people in the early 60s were inexorably heading towards the widespread disillusion of the post Nam/Watergate 1970s.

The players are mostly older man, recording for Modern, Stax and the celebrated producer Johnny Otis, still trying to make it through life, with tough talk and cool attitude. The exemplarily gritty, funky opening track by 'Guitar' Slim Green, 'Shake 'Em Up' encapsulates the tone for much of the selections that follow; hard, funk-flavoured blues, evincing strong impulses towards the dance floor. Buddy Guy taps into a conduit to James Brown's super-heavy funk with the inflammable 'I'm Not the Best'; The Johnny Otis Show's funk blues classic 'Country Girl' (1968) and the previously unreleased 'Comin' at Ya Baby' smoulder with funky intent; Stax blues harmonica summons up a funky storm on 'Eli's Pork Chop' (1972), and Lowell Fulson's urgent 'Mellow Together' (1968) reveals that his domestic situation is anything but relaxed. Backed-up members of Isaac Hayes' Movement and the Bar Kays, Albert King's magnificently low down groove 'Playing On Me' anticipates, in a funky blues style, the attitudes of hard rap, while Smokey Wilson's impassioned blues 'You Shattered My Dreams' (1978) gloriously wallows in despair and emotional desolation.

3. THE MUSIC CITY STORY - VARIOUS ARTISTS

Alec Palao's three CD compilation of the 75 odd tracks produced at Ray Dobard's Music City Records in Berkeley, California, over the Bay from San Francisco, is quite simply an incredibly thrilling work of contemporary America black music archaeology. Covering a period of 25 years, from the early 1950s until the mid-1970s, the collection of street level rhythm & blues, Doo wop vocal groups and soul which the defensive black entrepreneur Dobard recorded, above his record shop premises, Music City is an incredible introduction to the labels obvious abundance of musical riches.

The secretive Dobard only managed to score a few minor hits: The 4 Deuces swinging celebration of a potent cocktail, white port and lemon juice 'W-P-L-J'; Johnny Heartsman's 'reimagining' of Bill Doggett's 1956 smash 'Honky Tonk Part 1 & 2'; the raucous instrumental 'Johnny's House Party Part 1& 2' - but the quality Music City releases is exceptionally high. Yet famous figures lurk in the wings - James Brown's band back up Vermettya Royster's boisterous, previously unreleased 'All Around the World' and the great Lou Rawls delivers the soulful 'Too Late to Cry'. Despite an profusion of fantastic doo wop (The Pagans' 'Lover's Plea', The Crescendos' 'My Heart's Desire', The 5 Lyrics' 'I'm a Workin' Man') and blues (Alvin Smith's 'On My Way' and Mr Undertaker's mean 'Here Lies My Love'), The Music City Story covers an extensive number of musical genes, from white rock 'n' roll (The 3 Honeydrops' 'Space Satellite' and The Night Caps' 'Mirage'), to assertive jump blues (Del Graham's 'Your Money Ain't Long Enough'), jazzy soul (D'Vonya White's instrumental 'The Kasavubu Waltz'), 70s soul (Darondo's 'Didn't I') and even hillbilly country ('Bury Me in the South').

Ace has always excelled at this type of record label overview, and the Music City compilation, featuring an extensive 48 page sleeve-note history of the label based upon documents, tape boxes, letters, artist photographs, recorded phones conversations and discographical notes, must rank as one of the very best the company has yet produced.

4. STREET SOUNDS FROM THE BAY AREA : MUSIC CITY FUNK & SOUL GROOVES 1971-75 - VARIOUS ARTISTS

Compiled by Dean Rudland with notes by Alec Palao, this CD contains 17 slabs of hot funk grooves recorded at Ray Dobard's Music City record store/studio and issued on his label during the early to mid 1970s. What makes this release partially thrilling is the fact that, apart from two cuts (Music City 891's 1973 free groove 'Stop Telling Me the Two Things in One' and Music City 890's 1971 rock influenced instrumental 'Snag Nasty the Two Things in One') the rest of the smouldering funk tracks featured are previously unreleased.

The many highlights include Chucky Thurmon's propulsive 'Just a Man'; the Curtis Mayfield inspired yet idiosyncratic Darondo's 'Gimme Some (Version 1)'; the heavy anti-Vietnam war protest funk of 'Wouldn't It Be a Shame' by The Soul Messengers (also featured on The Music City Story); Al Tanner's 1974 jazzy soul instrumental 'The Rock That Killed Goliath'; the aptly named Eddie Boogaloo's nine minute epic, cool strutting 'Love Uprisers', and The Houston Outlaws' Funkadelic style, July 1972 version of their Westbound single, 'I Just Got to Be Loving You', featuring an astonishing full blown guitar feedback solo.

If you are looking for an undiscovered treasure trove of prime 1970s West Coast funk, look no further than Street Sounds from the Bay Area.

5. THE BIG BEAT: THE DAVE BARTHOLOMEW SONGBOOK - VARIOUS ARTISTS

The legendary New Orleans bandleader/performer/producer Dave Bartholomew (born 1920, in Edgard, Louisiana) is justly honoured with his own Ace songwriter compilation compiled and noted by Tony Rounce. The 25 Bartholomew compositions included on The Big Beat feature an eclectic number of musicians who have covered his rockin' songs through the years, forming an alternative history of rhythm blues in the process.

The Big Beat rightly opens with the songwritring partner/performer with whom Bartholomew enjoyed a string of huge hits on the Imperial label - Antoine 'Fats' Domino. 'The Fat Man', released in 1950, reworked Champion Jack Dupree's 1941 'Junker's Blues', dropped the number's drug connotations to present Fats as a loverman "'cause I weigh 200 pounds." A stirring Bartholomew/Domino hit, 'The Fat Man' contains the essence of rock 'n' roll, as do many of the other Bartholomew/Domino numbers covered in The Big Beat collection: ranging from The Johnny Burnette Trio's rockabilly rendition of 'All By myself' (1956); Jerry Lee Lewis' killer interpretation of 'My Girl Josephine', 'Hello Josephine' (1960); The World Famous Upsetters' (with an unaccredited vocal by Little Richard) 'Every Night About This Time' (1962); through to Dave Edmunds' Rockpile 1972 revival of 'I Hear You Knocking'.

The Big Beat even includes Bartholomew's explosive song-writing R&B collaboration with Smiley Lewis, 'Down the Road' (1954), Bartholomew's own rendition of his hypnotic one chord 1957 blues groove 'The Monkey (Speaks His Mind)' and the smutty 'My Ding-A-Ling' (1952), successfully reworked by Chuck Berry for his last US/UK chart topper in 1973. This is definitely The Big Beat. Long may Dave Bartholomew continue to live to enjoy the fruits of his labours.

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