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

The historic Stax and Vee-Jay labels shine in the spotlight.

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. (


Although 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. (

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.” (


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. (


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