LaVern Baker set is erratic in quality

LaVern Baker
Collectors’ Choice (CCM-2132)
Grade: ★★★

By Bruce Sylvester

La Vern Baker (1929-97) had one of ‘50s R&B’s most booming voices. Saved – an expanded reissue of an Atlantic LP – came after her biggest hits (“Jim Dandy,” “I Cried A Tear”). Her command was, as ever, authoritative, but this 1959-62 set (essentially singles including B-sides) is erratic in quality and not too cohesive. Its pluses – besides cover art, liner notes and standout sidemen like Mickey Baker and King Curtis – include the archly gospel title track and sacred-leaning cover of Faye Adams’ 1953 “Shake A Hand.” Among six bonus tracks, does “Hey Memphis” (a little-known answer to Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister”) intentionally reference “Jim Dandy” or merely revisit Presley’s lyrics?

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