Dahl’s Digs: Sink your teeth into meaty new releases

By  Bill Dahl

Chicago’s “other” leading postwar R&B indie label gets the royal treatment on Shout! Factory’s four-CD Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection.
One of the first successful African-American-owned diskeries, Vee-Jay was strong in every style during its 1953-66 existence — doo-wop (the Spaniels, El Dorados, Magnificents, Dells); blues (Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Eddie Taylor, Billy Boy Arnold); R&B (Gene Allison, Rosco Gordon, Harold Burrage); Windy City soul (Dee Clark, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Betty Everett); jazz (Eddie Harris) and gospel (Staple Singers, Swan Silvertones).
Vee-Jay eventually even dabbled in surf with Aki Aleong and folk-rock via Hoyt Axton. Licensing hits by the 4 Seasons, Jimmy Hughes and Joe Simon no longer controlled by current owners was a nice touch. (www.shoutfactory.com)
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RayCharlesRhino.jpgAlthough the omission of Ruth Brown is troubling, Rhino Handmade’s four-CD boxed set Atlantic Blues (1949-1970) offers a valuable overview of the label’s earthier output during its first two decades. The legendary label is commemorating its 60th anniversary.
Ray Charles, Roy “Professor Longhair” Byrd and Big Joe Turner are prominently featured within the set’s 80 tracks, joined by Aretha Franklin, Floyd Dixon, Esther Phillips, T-Bone Walker, Little Johnny Jones, Guitar Slim, LaVern Baker, Champion Jack Dupree and Freddie King. The splendid obscurities by Stick McGhee, Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis, Joe Morris, Lil Green, Hal Paige, Odelle Turner, Harry Van Walls, future Motown saxophonist Choker Campbell and L.A. guitarist Chuck Norris ultimately are what make the box worth ordering. (www.rhinohandmade.com)  
Meanwhile, it’s full speed ahead for Stax/Volt’s 50th anniversary celebration. PBS-TV premiered the documentary “Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story” Aug. 1, and Concord Music has unveiled hit-packed The Very Best of discs for William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, the Dramatics and Albert King. Except for the Dramatics CD, each opens with seminal sides from Atlantic-distributed Stax before segueing into Concord-controlled Stax masters; Bell’s entry boasts nine of his early Memphis classics (including the plaintive “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Any Other Way” and a pumping “Never Like This Before”), along with his two duets with Judy Clay. Taylor’s blues-drenched introductory sides are followed by his smashes “Who’s Making Love,” “Love Bones” and “Steal Away.” (www.concordmusicgroup.com)   
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The Godfather of Soul made his full-fledged move into the pop arena during the era covered on Hip-O Select’s two-CD James Brown The Singles Volume Three: 1964-1965, propelled by “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You ( I Feel Good).”
This was an eclectic time for Soul Brother No. 1. Recording for two different firms (King and Smash) simultaneously, his repertoire on 45s ranged from momentous funk workouts and jazz-slanted organ instrumentals to violin-drenched ballads and a surprising foray into blues. (www.hip-oselect.com)
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Memphis was the primary recording site for Luther Ingram during his initial years at Johnny Baylor’s Ko Ko Records, its surging, brassy grooves beautifully suiting his melismatic vocal delivery (Sam Cooke-ish, but far rougher-edged). Kent’s Pity For the Lonely — The Ko Ko Singles Volume 1 is a magnificent tribute to the recently departed singer. His first 18 1966-71 tracks for the firm, cut at Hi and Stax, overflow with southern soul intensity. Five numbers charted, and one that didn’t, “Ghetto Train,” sports an absolutely unstoppable groove.  
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Chicago had its own thing going on during the ‘60s. Billy Butler never quite achieved the same commercial heights as his older brother, Jerry, but his sound was just as soul-soaked.
Kent’s The Right Tracks: The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-1966 lives up to its name, its 29 selections encompassing all of the Curtis Mayfield-influenced guitarist’s breathtaking platters with his vocal group, variously called the Enchanters or Chanters (including the hits “I Can’t Work No Longer” and “Right Track”), several gorgeous unissued gems, and seven backing tracks underscoring Carl Davis’ impeccable production technique. (www.acerecords.co.uk)
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The soul mavens at the Numero Group ventured out to Columbus, Ohio, to track down the 19 cookers from 1969-73 comprising Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label. Eddie Ray, Marion Black, Joe King, the Royal Esquires and the rest merit this loving presentation.
Numero’s The ABCs of Kid Soul anthology gathers one ultra-obscure track apiece by 17 pubescent groups who were hellbent on following in the Jackson 5’s tiny footsteps. (www.numerogroup.com)
Collectors will drool over two newly unearthed Phoenix-cut tracks from 1960, but the rest of blues pianist Dennis “Long Man” Binder’s disc Hole in That Jug on Earwig is freshly recorded and jumps as hard as Binder’s ‘50s sides with Ike Turner. (www.earwigmusic.com)
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Chicago-based Mercury Records made two trips to the Crescent City that are contained in their entirety on Bear Family’s sumptuous, two-CD, The Mercury New Orleans Sessions 1950 & 1953. The bounty included piano wizard Professor Longhair’s rollicking national hit “Bald Head,” here along with another dozen Byrd rarities and splendid R&B sides by Alma Mondy, Ray Johnson, Little Joe Gaines, Herbert “Woo Woo” Moore, Dwine Craven, George Miller & His Mid-Driffs (their “Bat-Lee Swing” pits dueling saxists Lee Allen and Leroy “Batman” Rankins), and pianist Ray Johnson.  (www.bear-family.de)
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From honky-tonk country to velvety crooner, Ray Price’s incredible six-decade career is still going strong.
Columbia/Legacy’s The Essential Ray Price couldn’t possibly corral all his triumphs, but its 40 selections include many of his personal highlights: his 1950 Bullet label debut “Jealous Lies” is followed by his Columbia classics “Release Me,” “I’ll Be There,” “Crazy Arms,” “My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You” and “City Lights” on disc one, while its companion sports the bluesy tour de force “Night Life,” a stirring “Make The World Go Away,” and his stately pop crossover standard “For The Good Times.” (www.legacyrecordings.com)  
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The early Columbia catalog of Marty Robbins has been handled expertly over the years, but Rev-Ola Bandstand’s 31-track Rockin’ Robbins, slanted towards the mellifluous crooner’s mid-‘50s rockabilly output, has one additional thing going: eight live tracks culled from 1956 TV shows, most notably “Sugaree,” which Robbins never cut in the studio. (www.revola.co.uk)
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Too often overlooked in the country music pantheon (perhaps because he made singing look effortless), Roy Drusky scored enough solid mid-‘60s sellers for Mercury that it took two LPs to hold ‘em all. Collectors’ Choice Music pairs those two sets on Greatest Hits Vols. 1 & 2, which opens with the diesel-powered “White Lightning Express” but mostly mellows out after that for Nashville countrypolitan at its smoothest. (www.collectorschoicemusic.com)
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Hip-O’s “The American Folk-Blues Festival — The British Tours 1963-1966” DVD features breathtaking black-and-white TV footage of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Big Joe Turner (with Otis Rush on guitar), Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Junior Wells in his James Brown bag, every performance gloriously full-length. (www.reelinintheyears.com)
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Los Zafiros (in English, the Sapphires) blended doo-wop vocals with their Cuban musical heritage to ignite a mania akin to what the Beatles were simultaneously experiencing elsewhere during the ‘60s.
Shout! Factory’s Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time is a fascinating documentary chronicling a deeply moving reunion of surviving members Miguel Cancio and Manuel Galban, with vintage clips illustrating why the vocal group was once the toast of Havana (several full-length archival performances are featured in the DVD’s “extras” section). (www.loszafirosfilm.com) l

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